• Published
  • By Major David O. Ennis

Air Force JAG Corps Contributions to Major Missions

Throughout the history of the Judge Advocate General’s Corps (JAG Corps), deployed judge advocates and paralegals have provided vital legal support to combat operations. With each new major operation, the role of the deployed judge advocate has grown and evolved—a testament to the unsurpassed skill and value of the Department of the Air Force’s legal professionals.

Korea: the First Major Conflict

In June 1950, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea invaded the Republic of Korea. Thus began a three-year conflict that became the Air Force JAG Department’s first test of legal support to combat operations.[1] In the Korean conflict, the deploying judge advocate’s primary task was to learn and implement the recently enacted Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). The new law, signed by President Harry S. Truman just two months before hostilities began,[2] implemented many changes. Besides unifying the punitive articles across all the services, the UCMJ provided new rights to an accused under Article 31. General courts-martial now required trial and defense counsel to have formal legal training and be certified as competent by The Judge Advocate General.[3] And for the first time, judge advocates would serve in the distinct role of legal officer to rule on questions of law presented to a court-martial—a precursor to today’s military judge.[4] To meet these demands, predeployment training at The Judge Advocate General’s School focused above all else on the UCMJ.[5] 

In the Korean conflict, the deploying judge advocate’s primary task was to learn and implement the recently enacted Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).

In Korea, deployed attorneys and paralegals also managed foreign claims and legal assistance,[6] duties still familiar to the modern JAG Corps. Yet, today’s Corps may be shocked to learn that many judge advocates in Korea retained a rated status and flying duties in addition to their legal responsibilities.[7] Until judge advocates were removed from flying status in 1952, officers like then–Lieutenant Colonel James Cheney traveled throughout the Korean peninsula trying cases by day and navigating bombing missions by night.[8]

Korea proved to be a strenuous first test, but it also benefited the developing JAG Department. It provided growth opportunities to young judge advocates at a time when those with only two or three years of service were considered “experienced officers.”[9] Further, the valuable work of judge advocates and paralegals during the war brought positive visibility to the Department.[10]

Operations in Vietnam further displayed the indispensable role judge advocates and paralegals play in fielding combat capability.

Vietnam: Lessons to Shape the Future

Operations in Vietnam further displayed the indispensable role judge advocates and paralegals play in fielding combat capability. During this conflict, the JAG Department’s mission still focused on the administration of military justice as “job one.” Then–Captain David Morehouse’s experience as the 3d Tactical Fighter Wing Staff Judge Advocate (SJA) convinced him that a “visible, just, and efficient military justice program is … absolutely essential to maintaining combat capability.”[11]

Maintaining discipline among U.S. forces in Vietnam, many of them draftees, was a persistent challenge. Drug use and selling of goods on the black market ran rampant.[12] Offenses involving racial intolerance and disrespect toward superiors threatened good order and discipline. In response, judge advocates and paralegals worked tirelessly to improve military justice throughout the theater, with heroic efforts that continue to live in memory. For example, Captain Eric Michaux, the only African-American judge advocate serving with the Air Force in Vietnam, received by-name requests to represent service members facing court-martial throughout the area of operations, ultimately receiving the Bronze Star for his service.[13] Another legendary team, comprised of Captain John Rudy and Staff Sergeant William Rice, rode hundreds of miles around Pleiku Air Base on a raffled Honda motorcycle to deliver defense representation and legal assistance to members of all services at remote encampments in the field.[14]

In addition to military justice, Air Force legal staffs processed claims from combat damage on behalf of Airmen and the local populace, preserving the goodwill of local civilians when possible.

In addition to military justice, Air Force legal staffs processed claims from combat damage on behalf of Airmen and the local populace, preserving the goodwill of local civilians when possible.[15] Air Force paralegals also went into the field to administer a comprehensive reward system that paid Vietnamese nationals who found and returned military ordinance, equipment, and supplies.[16] However, members of the JAG Department did not advise directly on combat operations in Vietnam. Experiences with violations such as senior officers deviating from rules of engagement (ROE) would eventually expose this gap in operators’ failure to seek legal review of combat operations.[17] These lessons from the Vietnam conflict would lead to the development of operations law as a distinct practice area in the years that followed.

VIDEO | 00:36 | Reflections and Remembrance: Vietnam

Post-Vietnam Through DESERT STORM: Evolution of Operations Law

Taking from the lessons of Vietnam, guidance from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff directed U.S. military commanders to rely more heavily on their legal staffs in operational planning and execution. During the lead-up to Operation JUST CAUSE, the U.S. military’s move to restore the democratically-elected government of Panama, Air Force planners saw first-hand the operational value of judge advocates. Under the leadership of then–Colonel William Moorman, 12th Air Force (12 AF) judge advocates participated around the clock in operational planning with the battle staff.[18] The valuable input provided by the 12 AF legal staff during Operation JUST CAUSE removed any doubt that judge advocates and paralegals are a critical resource for effective planning and execution of combat operations.[19]

The valuable input provided by the 12 AF legal staff during Operation JUST CAUSE removed any doubt that judge advocates and paralegals are a critical resource for effective planning and execution of combat operations.

Thus, by the start of DESERT SHIELD, the role of legal professionals in combat operations had further evolved. Military justice remained a core competency of operational lawyers and paralegals, tasked to assist commanders with enforcing U.S. Central Command’s newly issued General Order No. 1.[20] However, deployed legal staffs also had to be experts in operational planning, rules of engagement, and international humanitarian law.[21] In fact, DESERT SHIELD’s expanded demand for legal staff threatened to outpace the JAG Corps’ manpower. Operational Plan 1002-90 called for at least two judge advocates and two paralegals to accompany each significant contingent of aircraft, even when the aircraft were projected to deploy to the same location.[22] If not adjusted, these overlapping deployment taskings would have pulled 149 judge advocates and 138 paralegals into theater and exhausted home station manning.[23] In response, The Judge Advocate General, Major General Keithe Nelson, authorized the Tactical Air Command Staff Judge Advocate to exercise centralized deployment sourcing authority for legal personnel.[24] Ultimately, the JAG Department deployed a total of 49 judge advocates and 46 paralegals to 30 different locations directly supporting Operations DESERT SHIELD and DESERT STORM.[25]


The legal staffs deployed in support of the first Gulf War participated in operations in a way they never had before. U.S. Central Command Air Forces judge advocates crafted ROE and aided target development. They developed legal annexes for the targeting lists to elucidate Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC) considerations of specific targets. Additionally, SJAs throughout the area of responsibility (AOR) were tasked with training and advising their local commanders, aircrews, and ground forces on the ROE and LOAC principles. The legal involvement in Operation DESERT STORM has led it to be referred to as the “lawyer’s war.” As then–Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Colin Powell observed, “[Operational] decisions were impacted by legal considerations at every level. Lawyers proved invaluable in the decision-making process.”[26]

The legal involvement in Operation DESERT STORM has led it to be referred to as the “lawyer’s war.”

The Global War on Terror

After the first Gulf War, Air Force judge advocates and paralegals routinely deployed to support operations such as NORTHERN WATCH, SOUTHERN WATCH, and the U.S. intervention in the Balkans. However, the attacks of 11 September 2001 and the ensuing Global War on Terror again saw an exponential expansion in the number of deployed JAG Corps personnel. In 2002 alone, the Air Force deployed over 200 judge advocates and paralegals. Between 2001 and 2022, the JAG Corps filled 3,890 deployment taskings—an average of more than 185 deployments per year.[27] At the same time, the average deployment length grew from less than 120 days to 179 days.[28]

Judge advocates and paralegals who deployed to Operations ENDURING FREEDOM and IRAQI FREEDOM also saw an expansion in the nature of the legal advice required of them. These operations employed civilian and contractor personnel to an extent never before seen. As early as 2003, then–Major Derek Hirohata recognized that even judge advocates within operational units would be asked to grapple with issues ranging from ratifying an unauthorized obligation of funds and forestalling contract disputes to disciplining civilian employees in theater.[29] Furthermore, counter-insurgency strategies in Iraq and Afghanistan used support contracts with the local populace to transform the local economy and “fund friends rather than foes.”[30] Due to the growth of this practice area, many Air Force judge advocates and paralegals deployed solely to advise on procurement efforts at specialized, in-theater joint contracting commands.[31]

Detainee and Rule of Law operations became another growing practice area for deployed JAG Corps members.

Detainee and Rule of Law operations became another growing practice area for deployed JAG Corps members. Many Air Force legal professionals deployed to the well-known Task Force 134 (TF-134). Beyond advising on the treatment of detainees under international law, TF-134 attorneys and paralegals facilitated review of detainee files to determine whether an individual should remain interned, and assisted the Iraqi government in prosecuting terrorist insurgents.[32] They also established detainee assistance centers to help detainees understand TF-134 procedures and bolster due process in its hearings.[33] So many JAG Corps members were being tasked to support detainee operations that in 2007, The Judge Advocate General’s School partnered with the Air Force Expeditionary Center to create a recurring TF-134 Course to train judge advocates and paralegals on these concepts prior to deployment.[34] Then–Captain Dan Doyle saw first-hand the impact his work had on the mission. Upon his arrival at Camp Bucca, the camp’s thousands of detainees often rioted in pitched battles with their guards; however, as the detainees witnessed the review process in action, Capt Doyle saw violence decrease to a fraction of what it was before.[35]

It should be no surprise that the heavy lifting to establish just and humane detention operations was often done by our talented Air Force paralegals. Whether conducting dozens of “outside the wire” missions to secure and catalog evidence against insurgents or presenting the case for continued detention or release as a recorder at numerous review boards, Air Force paralegals led the charge amongst their joint peers.[36]

When Technical Sergeant Sylvetris Rufus deployed to Iraq in 2009 to support the Law and Order Task Force, she quickly became involved in a project to improve the Iraqi prison system, particularly the overcrowding of Rusafa Prison. She transformed a non-existent filing system, where records were literally held together with sewing pins or thread, into a robust database that provided critical information and statistical data on all 1,550 detainees. In the process, she identified 132 detainees being improperly held at Rusafa Prison who were granted amnesty, released, or transferred to other facilities. Technical Sergeant Rufus was ultimately invited to personally brief the Iraqi Minister of Justice on the success of the project.[37]

JAG Corps members also forged partnerships with civilian agencies like the Department of Justice, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the Department of State to rebuild local government and societal structures.[38] Major Christy Barry deployed to Afghanistan in the initial cadre of the Afghanistan-Pakistan (AfPak) hands program. Immersed in Afghan language and culture, as well as counter-insurgency doctrine, Major Barry helped build an Afghan women’s bazaar to provide economic opportunity and stability to Afghan women.[39]

Deployed JAG Corps personnel have continued to provide unmatched service throughout the evolving nature of the War on Terror.

These examples were not isolated events. Deployed JAG Corps personnel have continued to provide unmatched service throughout the evolving nature of the War on Terror. The last Air Force JAG in Iraq, then–Major Dan Watson, advised on orderly closure and disposition of U.S. facilities and lawful transition of missions and activities to the Iraqi government. He left Baghdad nearly two years after the last U.S. combat forces.[40] Similarly, as recent as last year, JAG Corps personnel deployed stateside to support the safe resettlement of Afghan refugees in Operation Allies Welcome after withdrawal of U.S. forces from their home country. Today, judge advocates and paralegals continue to deploy throughout U.S. Central Command to support the defeat of ISIS holdouts in Syria and the threat they pose to the international community.

VIDEO | 01:34 | Operations Allies Refuge - Allies Welcome

Looking Forward

While the decades-long War on Terror heavily influenced the deployment experiences of today’s JAG Corps, our personnel have not, and will not, remain static in their support to global operations and the varied warfighting domains. As the National Defense Strategy moves us toward a “decisive decade” of integrated deterrence,[41] JAG Corps personnel deployed to U.S. Indo-Pacific Command’s and U.S. European Command’s AORs are already on the front lines of that effort. The JAG Corps recently added deployment taskings to the Security Assistance Group–Ukraine, and even more can be expected. As they have done since those early days in Korea, deployed JAG Corps members will continue to expand the full-spectrum of legal support to U.S. operations.

About the Author

Major David O. Ennis

Major David O. Ennis, USAF

(B.A., University of Memphis, Memphis, Tennessee; J.D., The University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, Alabama) is currently assigned as the Chief of the Expeditionary Branch, Professional Development Directorate, Office of The Judge Advocate General.
Edited by: Major Allison K.W. Johnson (Editor-in-Chief), Major Victoria H. Clarke and Major Andrew H. Woodbury
Layout by: Thomasa Huffstutler


[1] Major Leonard Broseker, First Major ConflictThe Reporter, Vol. 26 Special History Edition, 112 (1999).
[2] Patricia A. Kerns, The First Fifty Years of the United States Air Force Judge Advocate General’s Department: 1949-1999, 44 (2003).
[3] Harold F. McNiece & John V. Thornton, Military Law from Pearl Harbor to Korea, 22 Fordham L. Rev. 155, 162 (1953).
[4] Edward F. Sherman, The Civilianization of Military Law, Articles by Maurer Faculty 2260 (1970),
[5] Colonel Walter Lewis, In the Korean WarThe Reporter, Vol. 26, 113 (1999).
[6] Kerns, supra note 2, at 45.
[7] Id.
[8] Id.
[9] Id.
[10] Id. at 48.
[11] Major General David C. Morehouse, A Year In VietnamThe Reporter, Vol. 26, 126 (1999).
[12] Captain Denise M. Burke, Changing Times and New Challenges: The Vietnam WarThe Reporter, Vol. 26, 120 (1999).
[13] Id.
[14] Travelin’ JudgeThe Reporter, Vol. 26, 130 (1999).
[15] Morehouse, supra note 11, at 128.
[16] Burke, supra note 12, at 122.
[17] Kernssupra note 2, at 177.
[18] Id. at 178.
[19] Id.
[20] Major Leonard Broseker, Sword in the Sand: Operations Desert Shield and Desert StormThe Reporter, Vol. 26, 138 (1999).
[21] 141-142.
[22] Colonel Scott Silliman, JAG Goes to War: The Desert Shield Deployment, 37 A.F. L. Rev. 85, at 85-104 (1994).
[23] Id.
[24] Id.
[25] Id.
[26] Steven Keeva & Forrest Cates, Lawyers in the War Room, A.B.A. J. Dec. 1991, at 2-29.
[27] Derived from AF/JAX historical sourcing data.
[28] Major General Jack Rives, Perspective of The Judge Advocate GeneralThe Reporter, Vol. 35, No. 1, 5 (2007).
[29] Major Derek Hirohata et al., Operation Iraqi Freedom: Judge Advocates and Paralegals Answer the CallThe Reporter, Vol. 30, No. 2, 7 (2003).
[30] CENTCOM Contracting CommandThe Reporter, Vol. 37, No. 4, 187 (2010).
[31] Air Force Judge Advocate General’s School, Air Force JAG Corps Deployments: A Year in ReviewThe Reporter, Vol. 35, No. 1, 156 (2007).
[32] Id.
[33] Id.
[34] Technical Sergeant Scott Sturkol, JAG deployers receive in-depth training on Task Force 134, rule of law missionsUSAF Expeditionary Ctr. Pub. Aff. (Apr. 13, 2007),
[35] Captain Dan Doyle, Detainee Legal Operations at Camp Bucca, The Reporter, Vol. 35, No. 1, 157 (2007).
[36] Spotlight on 319 ABW/JA (AMC)The Reporter, Vol. 38, No. 4, 183 (2011). Major Allison K.W. Johnson, Veterans Day Reflections on DeploymentThe JAG Reporter (2022),
[37] Spotlight on a Deployed ParalegalThe Reporter, Vol. 36, No. 4, 21 (2009).
[38] Spotlight on a Deployed GeneralThe Reporter, Vol. 37, No. 4, 83 (2010).
[39] JACThe Reporter, Vol. 38, No. 4, 88 (2011).
[40] Major Dan Watson, The Last Air Force JAG in Iraq, TJAG Online New Service (Sept. 11, 2013).
[41] Dep’t of Def., National Defense Strategy 2022, (last visited 20 February 2023).