“The needs of the service.” What that means is that you would like to be assigned to Fort Lewis, Washington, but you are needed at Fort Hood, Texas. So that is where you will end up. Of course, some other lucky guy got assigned to Fort Lewis. I guess he was needed there more.
I never worked in the JAG career management office. If I had, I might have made it to Fort Lewis. But I did become familiar with a few of their fundamental rules. Like Rule One: “Everybody has to be assigned somewhere.” And, believe me, some people are hard to assign. The Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps (JAGC) had and has a large number of outstanding lawyers. But, there are always those on the far end of the bell curve. Another career management office rule is that if you are running a large office, you are going to get your fair share of the problem children.
I had been in charge of a number of large offices, so I had had my share of marginal officers. But if you have 15 to 20 officers and the vast majority are truly good, you can work around one or two problem children. Most officer assignments are routine. It’s when you get a call from the Pentagon notifying you that you are getting a particular officer that your antenna goes up. When I was the Staff Judge Advocate at Fort Riley, Kansas, I received one of those calls. The officer being assigned was transferring into the JAG Corps from the Military Intelligence Corps. I said that was fine and please send me his file. The assignment officer said, “Well, that’s just it, Jack, we can’t get his file because it is sealed. But we have been assured that there is nothing in his file that would preclude him from performing his duties.”
This is when, even though you know you are being hornswoggled, you smile and say, “Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full.” Remember Rule One: “Everybody has to be assigned somewhere.” Well this officer, who I will call Ted, was already at Fort Riley serving as an MI officer. In fact, his wife, who was a captain in the Transportation Corps was also at Fort Riley. The Army tries to keep married military couples together, except “for the needs of the service.” Well Ted worked for someone who worked for someone who worked for me. So I didn’t have a lot of contact with Ted. When I would inquire, I would get a report that he was doing “OK.” Then I would be advised that he was a little bit strange and secretive. Surprise! But I could live with OK.
I remember one time Ted was scheduled to teach a one-hour class on legal assistance issues to Army Community Service volunteers. I bumped into him in the hallway and asked if he was ready. He told me he had put together 400 slides and felt very comfortable. I should have told him that if he was going to show 400 slides, he should have a medic present.
One of the neat things about the Army is the social aspect. Commands will have formal dining ins and usually on New Years Day, senior commanders will have a reception at their home. Everyone dresses up in their dress blue uniform and wishes each other a Happy New Year. Even though I was technically not a commander, we always had our officers over to the house to start the New Year with a drink and some snacks. The Commanding General usually had his reception late in the day so the major commanders under him had theirs earlier. We usually had ours from 12 to 2 PM so we could attend some of the other receptions.
Ted came in towards the end of the year and told me he would not be able to attend our reception because he and his wife would be in Kansas City over the holiday. Even though Ted couldn’t make it, everyone else seemed to have a good time. Then Carole and I slipped over to the Wheelers for their reception (now don’t get ahead of me). Al Wheeler was the Division Support Commander. As we stepped into the receiving line guess who was right in front of us? There stood Ted and his wife in their dress blue uniforms. His wife was part of the Support Command so she was attending her bosses’ reception. Had someone mentioned that Ted was secretive? How about sneaky? We acknowledged each other, but that was about it.
A few months later, Ted came into my office and told me that he had decided that the JAG Corps was not for him and he had made arrangements to return to Military Intelligence. I wished him well. We had survived Ted.
A few years later, I was the Staff Judge Advocate for V Corps in Frankfurt, Germany. Much bigger office, so there was a need to support a few problem children. “Everybody has to be assigned somewhere.” A young captain, who will be called Bruce, was assigned to the Trial Defense side of the operation. He didn’t work for me, but was due to be assigned to my office in a couple of months. He was a nice looking, well spoken officer. He approached me and said that he needed to use the phone and my deputy was not in that day and would it be alright if he used the deputy’s desk. I said “Sure.” Fifteen minutes later, I walked by the deputy’s office and Bruce was on the phone, but he was leaning back and his boots were on the desk. I gestured to him to get his boots off of the desk.
My Chief of International Law was being reassigned and Bruce let it be known that he wanted the job. I discussed it with my deputy, Bob Kirby, and we decided that a female captain working in Criminal Law would be better for the position. After the announcement was made, Bruce came in to see me. It was 5:30 PM and I was wrapping up the day. Bruce told me that he thought he was better qualified and I hadn’t given him a chance. I told him that he might be right and if it turned out to be the case, I would try to make it up to him. I had been there a short time and had to make a decision. I did the best I could under the circumstances. He kept saying I hadn’t given him one good reason why he wasn’t selected. I told him I agreed, but that I selected the other captain because I had had more of a chance to observe her performance.
Bruce said it wasn’t his fault that he hadn’t worked for me. I told him that he was correct. It was now 5:50 PM and I told Bruce I had to finish up some work and I needed him to leave. I asked him to leave. He started in again that I hadn’t given him “one good reason” why he wasn’t selected. I asked him again to leave, but he wasn’t going to leave until he was satisfied. Then I said, “OK Bruce, I now have a good reason why not to select you. I’ve asked you to leave four times and you are still here. Please leave.” He started to get out of the chair, but he couldn’t make it. He had to go for one more round. By then, I knew we had made the right decision.
When Bruce arrived, we assigned him as a legal assistance officer. It was the first time I ever received written complaints on the conduct of a legal assistance officer. One time he showed up a half hour late for an appointment, dressed in a sweat suit. Then, as the lady was explaining her problem, he pulled out his lunch bag and started eating. On another occasion, he was using a sample will that, as an template,
had a trust provision in it. Not understanding that it was only an example, Bruce put the trust provision in a number of wills. When the client would asked why he would be leaving his residual to the Judge Advocate General’s School, Bruce would explain that it was just boilerplate language.
Bruce was finishing up his four year obligation and wanted an extension. I told him it was a bad idea. I then called Heidelburg (higher headquarters) to let them know that he should not be extended. Bruce outsmarted me and called back to the Pentagon and got his extension teaching logistics somewhere in Virginia.
After leaving the Army, Bruce had criminal difficulty and ended up in a Virginia State prison. He escaped once, but they caught him and brought him back. That was years ago and I hope Bruce has returned to society. All I know is if every large office has to have its share of problem children, I should have gotten double credit for Bruce!
written by PJ Rice at www.ricequips.com