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NEWS | July 23, 2019

Paralegal training ensures disciplined forces are lethal forces

By Sgt. James Garvin Exercise News Day

As the words “fall out!” cut across the thick, humid Wisconsin air, Soldiers from across the U.S. Army filed out of morning formation and into a classroom to continue the 2019 Paralegal Warrior Training Course (PWTC). 

PWTC is an annual two-week training held at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, every July. It prepares paralegal Soldiers from all three Army components to maintain law and order through knowledge and warrior skills. 

This course has been around for 32 years and was created to provide paralegal training in the ever-changing environment of military law and justice. 

“The law changes so much. We had to have (training) that kept Soldiers up to date on the current law … so we’re always at the tip of the spear,” said Sgt. Maj. Denise Underwood, command paralegal for the U.S. Army Reserve Command headquartered in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. 

Underwood said this course prepares Soldiers to grow into leaders for a career field that specializes in assisting military judge advocate lawyers. 

“It’s a chance for them to make their mistakes … so when they go to their professional development, they’re squared away,” said Underwood. 

Paralegal Warrior balances the duality of the pen and the sword, which helps maintain order and uphold the law throughout the military.

“History tells us disciplined forces are lethal forces,” said Brig. Gen. Joseph B. Berger III, commanding general of the Judge Advocate Generals Legal Center and School.

“(Paralegals) help (commanders) ensure their forces can focus on the fight, that they’ve got the right people in the formation at the right time, doing the right thing,” he said. 

This lethality keeps paralegals’ mindsets in the fight, both in and out of their offices, said Underwood. 

“They have to see where they fit in the whole scheme of things. The misconception is paralegals are just behind a desk … We deploy. We have to know how to shoot, how to communicate, all the rules of engagement, because now they have a clear understanding when they’re downrange,” Underwood said.

Spc. Michael Muhlig, a U.S. Army Reserve paralegal in the 389th Engineer Battalion, from Dubuque, Iowa, appreciated the benefit of the tactical training.

He said the warrior skills he learned help him support any deploying unit, which ultimately allows him to exercise his specialty.

“If I were to ever get deployed … we can set up there and perform legal actions,” he said.

Throughout the training, paralegals faced different scenarios to resolve how military laws apply to specific nuances in each case.

“These tactical skills and these simulated exercises … lead into legal actions that come about from these scenarios,” said U.S. Army Reserve Master Sgt. Jarrod Murison, the vice chair of the legal administrator and paralegal studies department at the Judge Advocate Legal Center and School in Charlottesville, Virginia.

For instance, one scenario involved Soldiers mistreating innocent civilians during a conflict situation that escalated quickly. Another included an interrogation using practices not condoned by the military. In yet another case, a Soldier admitted to stabbing someone else in a text message. Each instance required the paralegals to assess the finer details and understand what legal actions were necessary. 

“I had a scenario yesterday, and it kind of got me on my feet and it was a lot of research,” said Spc. Raevyn Reader, a U.S. Army Reserve paralegal specialist from Dover, Delaware, with the 200th Military Police Command, out of Fort Meade, Maryland.

The first five days of PWTC were purely classroom instruction on subjects like operational law, the law of war, the law of armed conflict and military justice. This allowed paralegals to ease into the crawl, walk and run phases of the course. The latter half focused on field training, teamwork skills and tactical movements to give Soldiers a personal perspective on possible cases.

Not only does this course offer clear and informative material for paralegal specialists, but several Soldiers said it provides clarity in their civilian careers. 

“There’s so many different types of law. There’s so much I’ve learned here that taught me what I like, and what I don’t like,” said Reader. “I feel like not only this course, but just being in the Army in general has pushed me to find my own interest and find my own passions in law.”

Reader said this course has improved her knowledge of law and exposed her to different paralegal duties, so she can more accurately choose a career path.

By learning these laws and how to respond to various legal conflicts, Soldiers are better prepared when they deploy to complex environments.

“We must be ready, always. We must hone our craft. We cannot win wars without the support of the U.S. Army Reserve,” Underwood said.

The rule of law and the art of war are not easily mastered. With the right training and discipline, these paralegal Soldiers will impact the Army by keeping the law in the worst of situations.