JAG Corps History
Origins in the American Revolution
In 1775, shortly after taking command of the new army, General George Washington insisted that the Continental Congress appoint a lawyer to assist with the courts-martial being conducted. Congress agreed, and William Tudor, a “judge advocate,” joined Washington’s staff. This appointment marked the beginning of what would become The Judge Advocate General’s Corps. By 1776, Tudor, known as the “Judge Advocate General,” was personally conducting trials before courts-martial and other military tribunals. He served as both prosecutor and legal advisor to the court, as well as a “friend” of the accused.
Washington’s desire for a judge advocate reflected the broader debate about justice and legal authority that fueled the American Revolution. The new nation sought to replace the “Divine Right of Kings” with the “Rule of Law.” This principle was based on mutual respect between the government and individuals, with the government upholding individual rights and individuals obeying government rules and regulations. The Rule of Law ensures order, justice, and equality in both civilian life and the military.
Since the Revolution, the American Army has had its own lawyers who assist commanders in enforcing Army standards and values. Loyalty, duty, respect, selfless service, honor, integrity, and personal courage thrive when soldiers know that they will be treated equally and that rules and regulations apply to all, regardless of rank or assignment. Judge advocates have always played a critical role in ensuring these standards and values are upheld.
Early years through Civil War period
Judge advocates served with honor and distinction in the early years of the Republic. In the Civil War era, Army lawyers played prominent roles in two historic legal events: The Lincoln Assassination Trials and the Trial of Captain Henry Wirz, commandant of the infamous Andersonville prison camp.
World War I
During World War I, the Judge Advocate General’s Corps expanded rapidly. The increasing number of judge advocates allowed for a broader role in advising commanders on legal and non-legal matters. For example, Major General Enoch H. Crowder, the Judge Advocate General since 1911, was also appointed Provost Marshal and played a key role in the Selective Service Act of 1917. Major Marion W. Howze, a judge advocate in France, performed traditional legal work with the American Expeditionary Force.
World War II
In preparation for World War II, the Army faced numerous legal challenges. Judge advocates not only provided legal advice and opinions but also made policy recommendations. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Colonel Thomas H. Green assumed duties as the executive to the military governor in Hawaii, playing a crucial role in the transition to military government. Lieutenant Samuel E. Spitzer and Lieutenant Hubert E. Miller demonstrated exceptional bravery in combat, receiving the Silver Star and Distinguished Service Cross, respectively. The Army also established a formal Legal Assistance Plan during World War II.
Post-World War II and the Birth of Operational Law
The Army’s experience in Vietnam highlighted the need for judge advocates to become more involved in military operations beyond traditional legal matters. As a result, the JAG Corps embraced operational law, a new legal discipline that encompassed domestic, foreign, and international law applicable to military operations. This shift in focus prepared judge advocates to contribute to mission success in a changing world.
Corps in the War on Terrorism
The September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks marked the beginning of a new era in warfare. Judge advocates have been an integral part of the war on terrorism, playing crucial roles in operations such as Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. They provide legal services and support to military personnel in combat zones.
The Fort Gordon Legal Office offers legal assistance to military members, retirees, and their dependents. Services include help with divorces, estate planning, and other legal matters. Appointments can be scheduled during office hours.
The Fort Gordon Claims Office processes two types of claims: tort claims and affirmative claims. Tort claims involve personal injury, death, or property damage caused by the negligence of military personnel, while affirmative claims are claims on behalf of the U.S. against negligent third parties. The Claims Office provides assistance and guidance in filing claims.
The Administrative Law Division advises various offices on installation-wide actions that affect the daily operation of Fort Gordon. They provide legal guidance on a wide range of administrative issues, including employment, ethics, safety, and travel.
The Military Justice Division supervises UCMJ matters on the installation, providing advice to commanders on disciplinary actions and administrative separations. They also conduct educational classes on military justice for commanders and units.
The Federal Litigation Division handles the criminal prosecution of civilians on the Fort Gordon Military Reservation. They prosecute both felony and misdemeanor offenses in the U.S. Federal District Court, including traffic violations, DUI, shoplifting, drug possession and distribution, assaults, trespassing, and burglary.
The Fort Gordon Legal Office does not host a Tax Center for the 2023 tax year. However, there are still resources available for military members, retirees, and qualified dependents to receive free or reduced-cost tax services. Various online services offer free or reduced-cost filing for military personnel.