“Ms. JD” Goes to Washington . . . Life as an Army JAG at The Pentagon, Ft. Belvoir & Washington, DC

As summer came so did my time to leave Hawaii and move from my assignment as trial counsel and onto to my next assignment. At that point I had been in Hawaii for “four years” but deployed for almost two of those years.  After speaking to our Personnel, Plans, Training Office (PPTO) and learning what areas/installations were available, I chose my top five spots based on both the substance of the job and location. I really wanted to stay with the contract and fiscal law area and head to Washington, DC, if possible. Fortunately, the stars were aligned and there was a contract and fiscal law job in Washington, DC: The Pentagon to be exact.

So what is it like to move in the military or “PCS” (permanent change of station)—as we say in the Army—to a new installation? It’s very similar to the first move when you come onto active duty for the most part.  You get an “out processing” or “clearing” form/packet and have to get it signed at different places on the installation, essentially “signing you out” of the installation. Typically, you would stop at medical and grab your records, the post library, and transportation (set appointments for moving household goods, arrange your travel if flying overseas). Once you have “out processed” or “cleared” an installation, you are ready to head to your next installation.

Fortunately, once you arrive at your new installation, the Army gives you time to find housing.  The Army also provides for you to stay in lodging on post (essentially a military hotel) or helps with the cost of an off-base hotel for a few days (longer if you are overseas). Further, you may request Permissive Temporary Duty “PTDY” to search for lodging and take care of personal needs before you begin your new job. During this time, you are permitted to do some “house-hunting” at your new prospective duty location without having to use your “leave days” (military speak for vacation time). The travel is at your own expense for this house-hunting trip, but it is well worth it. I requested PTDY and it was helpful as I found myself house hunting, picking up my new car (which was shipped from Hawaii to Maryland), registering my car, etc.  My household goods were delivered to my new home shortly after I moved in—movers dropped off boxes and put together furniture—and I was ready to begin my new assignment at The Pentagon.

My new job was an attorney-advisor for contract and fiscal law for Army Staff. I advised those that worked for the Chief of Staff of the Army. I loved it! I loved working on contract and fiscal issues and seeing the “big” contract and fiscal picture of the Army.  As a young attorney just 4 years out of law school, I was working on fiscal and contracts issues involving hundreds of millions of dollars including the evolving field of energy tax credits for Army installations, emerging environmental issues like securing funding for electronic vehicle charging stations, as well as guiding base level contract officers through complicated multi-million dollar military construction contracts.

Working at The Pentagon provided more opportunities for learning about the Army and how the Army runs. I loved the buzz of working in The Pentagon, which is the nerve center of the Department of Defense. While there were times when it could be intimidating to be the junior officer in the room, advising on multi-million dollar contracts, life as an Army JAG prepares you for this. Remember all the discussion in the past blogs about JAGs getting regularly interfacing with Army commanders as part of their everyday job to give them the very best legal advice to help accomplish the mission within the parameters of the law? That applies in all areas of practice in the JAG Corps. So when I (and other young JAGs like me) are given the opportunity to brief important issues to our senior leaders, I’m proud to say that we don’t shrink from the opportunity. We embrace it.

Aside from my own job within the contract and fiscal law division, I think one of the most rewarding aspects of my time in the Pentagon was the ability to interact with other “action officers” (that’s military speak for project officers responsible for the day-to-day maintenance of programs and resolution of issues) from across all the occupational branches of the Army and military services in general. If you’re not getting out from behind your desk in the Pentagon from time-to-time to interact with the dizzying array of peers and senior leaders, you are really missing out. It helped remind me of how much bigger the Army’s mission is beyond just the “JAG Corps” and how we’re there to help make the mission happen. It was not only humbling to see how we fit into the larger picture, but also exciting and motivating.  Another incredibly rewarding experience was supporting the Wounded Warriors when they visited the Pentagon.  They would be welcomed home to a hall of cheering supporters.  It was truly a privilege to support our Wounded Warriors.

My three years in contracts and fiscal law passed by so fast, and before I knew it, I was headed over to nearby Ft. Belvoir for a totally new challenge: I would be the Deputy of the Judge Advocate Recruiting Office (JARO). In this position, I would be responsible for helping to guide the operations of the Army’s worldwide JAG recruiting effort involving more than 125 Field Screening Officers interviewing over 2,000 promising candidates for the Army JAG Corps each year. Initially, I had no idea what I would be doing when I arrived at JARO. The content of the job was a departure from all my experience with civil law, criminal law, contracts law, and fiscal law to which I had dedicated my first 7 years of my JAG career. However, I discovered that this was an opportunity to learn even more about the Army JAG Corps by being able to interact with leaders at our “headquarters level” and learn about their perspectives on and their vision for the Army JAG Corps and its mission as a whole. I had the opportunity to work with national and regional organizations, travel to conferences and law schools, and manage our budget. Admittedly, this represented a “break” from the law, but I enjoyed my time immensely. Had I not been in JARO, I might never have been exposed to Ms. JD. Speaking with law students and practicing attorneys about what I do has been rewarding: I love sharing my experiences.

So what’s next? Well of course, the saga continues! I am headed to what we call in the Army JAG Corps “The Grad Course.” The Army JAG Corps prioritizes continuing education and excellence from all of its judge advocates, which is why it provides the opportunity for each judge advocate promoted to the rank of Major to attend an intensive 10-month course of study at the Army Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School (co-located with the University of Virginia School of Law) in pursuit of an LLM in Military Law. In addition to a course of core subjects to sharpen my skills in the main “pillars” of law applicable to a judge advocate (e.g., administrative law, contracts law, and military justice), I’ll have the opportunity to pen a thesis at the close of my studies. Past students have published their theses on subjects as varied as the law of war to international humanitarian law, intricate federal contracts and procurement issues, and of course, military justice. The JAG Corps encourages scholarship and innovation, and I’m excited for the opportunity to find my own inspiration for an article in an evolving area of law.

So what will the grad course be like? More on that next time (once my first semester is complete). I’ll fill you in on what you may come to expect at the grad course.

DO’s and DON’Ts for life as a JAG in The Pentagon and the Washington, DC area:

DO appreciate the opportunity to gain a larger perspective of the Army and the Army JAG Corps’s mission by interacting with our senior leaders.

DON’T shy away from the responsibility/opportunity to brief senior leaders—the Army put you in this position because you are capable of succeeding, and seizing the challenge will help you grow.

Major Majella C. N. Pope is the Deputy Chief of the US Army Judge Advocate Recruiting Office. She attended UC Berkeley (BA, Political Science) and received her JD from George Washington University Law School. She is licensed in NY. She has been in the US Army JAG Corps for 9 years and has had two deployments to Iraq.

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