By 1st Lt. Alvand Ghandhari
July 29 marked the 245th birthday of America’s oldest and largest law firm: the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps – better known as the JAG Corps.
In 1775, while General George Washington was leading 16,000 New England volunteers and militiamen to besiege Boston, Massachusetts, in what would become the beginning of the Revolutionary War, the Second Continental Congress appointed William Tudor as the first Judge Advocate of the Army. Tudor was paid $20 per month to help organize and regulate the fledgling Colonial Army – his primary responsibility was to “prosecute in the name of the United States of America.”
Since its humble beginnings, the JAG Corps has been at the forefront of the Army’s legal issues, ranging from the prosecution of Benedict Arnold and Nazi war criminals to other significant historical events such as the introduction of women into combat roles and the repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on military service by gays, bisexuals and lesbians.
Matching the corps’ diverse history, judge advocates come from a wide range of backgrounds, ranging from recent law graduates ready to start their legal careers to experienced attorneys eager to serve their country. We all proudly wear the crossed sword and pen as our branch insignia – the pen signifying the recording of testimony and the sword signifying the military character of our mission.
The JAG Corps’ motto, “Soldier First, Lawyer Always,” speaks to the urgency of Washington’s request for a judge advocate and is a testament to the critical role the Soldier lawyer has played in the proper functioning of the Army, from its earliest days until now.
To gain a better perspective on what it means to be a Soldier lawyer, two JAG Corps officers and two law students interning with Fort Leonard Wood’s JAG office explained why the JAG Corps is the right fit for them.
Capt. Mandi Ford, legal assistance attorney:
“I joined the U.S. Army JAG Corps because it could deliver on the qualities I prayed for most in a career: adventure, family and awesome benefits. Since day one, the JAG Corps has fed this small-town girl’s need for adventure. In no other law profession are you shooting a rifle, plotting and navigating land coordinates in the dark and training alongside the world’s best fighting force during your first few weeks on the job. Being a Soldier lawyer has also abundantly added kindhearted, selfless souls to my family circle — camaraderie is so actively fostered and vital to our mission. The JAG Corps has taken care of me and is second to none. Even on the hardest days, I’m so filled with gratitude knowing my future is full of traveling escapades, diverse practice assignments and top-shelf relationships — all while working for an organization that puts its team first.”
1st Lt. Taylor Samuels, legal assistance attorney
“I was 3 years old when I decided I wanted to be a lawyer. It wasn’t until I interned with my local government in college that I realized my true calling as a public servant. What drew me to this extraordinary career path was the ability to contribute to something so much larger than myself every single day. I am proud to live our motto every day.”
David Jordan, law student and JAG Corps intern
“I wanted to intern with the JAG Corps to learn more about the interesting work done by military lawyers. While I have learned a lot about the legal issues that go along with the Army’s mission, the most rewarding experience has been the great people I have met while working here. Those serving in the U.S. Army JAG Corps are incredibly gifted individuals who have a passion for service. They are professionals who excel in their field and take the time to teach what they have learned along the way. This mix of dedication, professionalism and humility makes them one of the best legal teams any attorney could hope to join.”
Olivia Maynes, law student and JAG Corps intern
“I was attracted to a JAG Corps internship because I knew I would get a variety of experiences in different practice areas, which is a rare opportunity in legal internships. This has been so rewarding. Getting to know the amazing attorneys and staff have made it clear that anyone who joins JAG Corps will have a rewarding career.”
(Editor’s note: Ghandhari is a legal assistance attorney assigned to the Fort Leonard Wood Office of the Staff Judge Advocate.)