By David VergunJanuary 29, 2013
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (Army News Service, Jan. 29, 2013) -- The "Command Sergeants Major Legal Orientation" three-day pilot course opened here today, at The Judge Advocate General's Legal Center & School, on the campus of the University of Virginia. There were about 50 students in attendance.
The course came about after Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III "made the rounds doing his battlefield circulation," said Command Sgt. Maj. Joseph P. Lister, with the Judge Advocate General's Legal Center & School, or TJAGLCS. "He saw some of the senior leaders getting into trouble and figured that if his enlisted advisors had some more legal education, they could help prevent these kinds of things from happening in the first place."
Sergeants major already provide advice and guidance to their commanders, Lister said. The new course simply arms them with more in-depth knowledge to help them do a better job.
"The education will be wide-ranging, including things like where and how you can spend specific pots of money, [or] how to prevent sexual assault from happening, [it covers] a gamut of legal topics," Lister said.
Lister said the Army response to the SMA's suggestion for the course was both positive and swift.
"As soon as the SMA brought this to our attention, the JAG corps fully embraced it," he said.
Chandler said the course is important because it "expands the education opportunities for our nominative sergeants majors to help them to understand the environment they'll be operating in [which is] not the same as tactical fight they've come from."
The SMA was on-hand for the opening of the three-day course, to meet with and speak to students.
"The things you do can have an immediate impact on your general officer or [Senior Executive Service civilian employee]," he told the class. "You have to have your head on a swivel to ensure you're not putting him or her in a place they are going to get into trouble."
Chandler told senior noncommissioned officers it is their responsibility to advise their bosses to help them avoid potential legal pitfalls.
"You've got to have that personal courage to be able to say, 'hey sir, take a step back please,'" Chandler said.
A second goal for the course, Chandler said, is to protect sergeants major from themselves. He said there are plenty of pitfalls that these senior leaders can fall into, such as "improper relationships, funding, or any number of things you can think of."
He said this education will help them better understand what is legally, morally and ethically right.
Also, during a time of fiscal austerity, Chandler cautioned senior enlisted leaders to be especially wary of offers for monetary assistance from private organizations.
"There's risk [in] accepting donations or support for wounded warriors" and for other noble causes, he cautioned. "Most offers are well-intentioned, but some want undue influence and are smart enough to recognize that maybe they can't go to a general officer and ask, but think they can go around him to the sergeant major to make something happen. You have to know when you are crossing the line" in terms of "how much money you can accept and whether or not to attend events not Army specific."
A third goal of the course, Chandler said, is that "we expect sergeants major to take their education back to posts, camps and stations and institute a program around our Profession of Arms Campaign, which has to do with some of the ethics of serving in the military. We really need to help our young, junior Soldiers understand what we expect them to do and to do it in a correct manner."
Those selected to attend the course must work for a general officer or a senior executive service civilian leader. Each student receives an invitation to attend from the SMA's office, Lister said.
Lister said student feedback solicited at the end of the course will be shared with the faculty at both the JAG office and the SMA's office by around the first week in February.
"We expect to receive some positive and some negative feedback," he said, noting this is the first time it has been taught. "We'll use it to adjust the curriculum."
The curriculum for the Command Sergeants Major Legal Orientation includes courses covering unlawful command influence; search and seizure; urinalysis; improper superior/subordinate relationships and fraternization; handling sexual harassment complaints; family advocacy programs; standards of conduct; wounded warrior law; equal employment opportunity; the Freedom of Information Act; international and operational law; fiscal law; morale, welfare and recreation operations; Soldier support to family members; consumer law; administrative investigations; and financial liability investigations.