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NEWS | April 4, 2024

Have questions? Ask a JAG

By Lt. Col. Kristin Porter 807th Medical Command (Deployment Support)

The 807th Medical Command (Deployment Support) Staff Judge Advocate office hopes to demystify what Judge Advocate Generals (JAGs) do by offering a legal conversation and training with downtrace unit leadership and staff members during their monthly “Ask a JAG” program.

“I want to make JAGs more accessible to lower level commanders. We are a leader asset, not a command asset,” said Lt. Col. Mary Jo Gneshin, 807th MC(DS) SJA. “I should be talking to team chiefs and squad leaders when they have problems that they don't know how to deal with. My goal is to make junior leaders feel like they're not alone out there, especially in the Reserve.”

The “Ask a JAG” program began in September 2022 as a Microsoft Teams call and focused on general legal issues that commanders, S1s, SSAs, Inspector Generals, and legal professionals may face. The FY23 theme was “communicating at the lowest level,” and topics were selected based on requests from the audience or questions most received by the 807th OSJA, including Drug Separation Actions, Responding to Misconduct, Article 15 Nonjudicial Punishment, Ethics, Defense in Support of Civilian Authorities, Alcohol-Related Misconduct, Army Adverse Information Program, Civilian Employee Misconduct, Conference Exemption Packets, Command Directed Behavioral Health, and Administrative Investigations.

“We have good relationships with brigade commanders and brigade judge advocates. I think where that [communication] falls apart, especially in a TPU environment, is when people aren't actively on phones or emails on a day-to-day basis. Does that information trickle down to the lowest level? Are those people who are actually making the decisions – unit commanders, supervisors at the unit level – are they receiving the same level of guidance and information as brigade commanders?” said Maj. Cleveland Karren, 807th MC(DS) Deputy SJA.

Gneshin’s paralegals actually lead the “Ask a JAG” program for their professional development and to reinforce that paralegals are part of the legal service community. As junior soldiers may not have the same comfort level when addressing an O-5 attorney, “I think it makes it a little more accessible for people to feel like they can ask questions,” said Karren.

“I think a lot of times commanders, or leaders in general, think that the only assets they have are lawyers, but our paralegals are company level assets. So if a company commander wants to take any action [within their authority], our paralegals have the knowledge, skills, and ability to make that happen,” said Gneshin.

With actions taking, at times, more than a year to process within the division, especially when coming from the company level, the goal was to streamline the process – provide the checklists, templates, and explanations that are needed. The team records every “Ask a JAG” and posts it in a repository on MS Teams and Sharepoint, accessible whenever people have a need, interest, or time.

“TPU commanders feel like they’re on their own working soldier issues…and they don’t know where to get the answers,” said Gneshin. “So they were relying a lot on their full time staff. [And] a lot of times, the staff doesn’t know how to help commanders. By putting this out there, [this gives] the full time staff at the company level tools to make things happen for the commanders, [including knowing] how to get actions through.”

The 807th gained a new commanding general last summer, so Gneshin and her team looked at the CG’s updated vision statement which focused on operations, deciding FY24’s “Ask a JAG” theme would be Large Scale Combat Operations.

Karren explained, “[There is a need to address] how does a medical command fit in that role? How does legal fit in that? We treat people. We might treat enemy Soldiers. How do we deal with that? What are the rules? Sometimes these questions become far more subtle as you're dealing specifically with a medical command.”

The first FY24 session tackled how commanders utilize JAGs in large scale combat operations through the Geneva Convention, the code of conduct, and how that specifically affects medical commands and medical personnel.

“The G3/S3 must understand a JAG’s role and include them in the [operational] planning process,” emphasized Gneshin. “We get more in depth about things like use of force, rules of engagement, and the differences between domestic operations and overseas operations, our different authorities and command authorities, joint international operations, and international agreements.”

Gneshin provided the hypothetical example of a commander needing to talk to JAG because their soldiers in Germany flooded a hotel with follow-up questions based on whether there is a Status of Forces Agreement that covers personal injury or damage to a commercial property rented by the Army. The “Ask a JAG” program also covers claims overseas, such as if the US. accidentally bombs the wrong target or if a civilian is killed inadvertently, and how the U.S. pays reparations.

From the medical command side, “Ask a JAG” dives into the Geneva Convention and its impact in LSCO, especially with the system created after World War II to make sure that our medical personnel and medical support personnel are protected.

“We all have our Geneva Convention classification on our CAC cards and medical personnel have special protections, but we also have special responsibilities. So if you capture enemy medical personnel, it's not the MPs that are going to decide what to do with them…it's going to be the surgeon cell of the command that's supporting the detainees. Some medical person is going to be in charge of determining whether they are a POW, or they're a retained person,” said Gneshin.

Retained medical personnel are held in a separate area and allowed to provide medical services. Per the Geneva Convention, a capturing nation’s medical personnel must triage not only their own patients but also retained personnel and POWs, so it would be most beneficial to have retained medical personnel treat their own POWs or the POW population in general.

While hospital support staff members' military occupational specialties (MOS) may mirror another Army MOS, their MOS is specific to supporting hospital operations. While they may not necessarily treat patients, if hospital support staff are captured, they could have retained personnel status and become the administration of the POW hospital.

“Say you capture an entire medical hospital, and you don't need all [the retained medical personnel]..if they're not treating people, or on the rotation to treat people, then you either turn them into POWs or you release them during a retained personnel exchange program, which is different than a POW exchange,” said Gneshin.

In a LSCO environment, “the medical community now has both hats - an operational / command requirement – running the hospitals and separating the POWs and determining how many retained personnel they need, and ensuring that the POW camps are up to standard and things like that. But we have lost that skill over the last 20 years because we haven't had to use it; we haven't talked about it in 20 years. A whole generation of people could have come in after 9/11 and left without ever having to apply the Geneva Convention,” stated Gneshin.

Despite medical professionals’ moral obligation to help anyone who is injured, if they see a civilian bleeding out in the middle of the city, they’re actually not supposed to treat them unless stated in the Rules of Engagement (ROE) and legal authorities are granted by the theater commander. They should take them to a civilian hospital and return to the fight and capture and treat U.S. forces or wounded POWs.

“It’s not common knowledge,” Gneshin continued. “In LSCO, medical professionals’ medical support is primarily for U.S. forces and allies.”

“Those are the kinds of things we're wanting commanders, soldiers, or medics on the ground, on the front line, [to know]. They may see a humanitarian need, [but] our mission isn't humanitarian at the time. And so we need our E7s and E3s to be able to articulate the conditions that allow higher level commanders with authorities to give them the ability to act on their humanitarian impulses, which may be illegal because if your medic is treating a civilian, then they might not be treating a soldier. And that's their primary mission…the treatment of soldiers,” said Gneshin.

----- Ask A JAG occurs on the last Thursday of each month; the meeting is accessible via a military MS Teams account. For questions about Ask A JAG or to receive a calendar invite, contact Warrant Officer Saamon Legoski at -----