"Fly Write and Win" could soon become the motto of the U.S. Air Force legal department. And that's no typo.
In November Air Force general counsel Charles Blanchard launched a blog that he hopes will attract military and civilian readers alike. While he started it as a forum for the Air Force legal community, he's interested in including the larger legal community as well as everyday citizens who don't always understand how the armed forces operate. "We do things a little differently," says Blanchard, "but we do it that way for a reason."
Take the media spotlight on adultery following the resignation of CIA director David Petraeus, who admitted having an extramarital affaira crime under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. In his blog, Blanchard linked to an article considering whether the military's ban on out-of-wedlock romance might be outdated. Although he didn't personally comment, he asked his readers to weigh in.
While such a strict ban might seem old-fashioned to a civilian audience, there are justifications for the law. Because couples are often split up for long periods by their military service, he explains, there needs to be deep trust between them.
Blanchard hopes that his blog can create a forum for military insiders to rethink their own traditional policies. Generally speaking, he thinks it's helpful to be exposed to different ways of thinking.
Blanchard learned the value of healthy discussions early in his legal career. After finishing first in his class at Harvard Law School, Blanchard, a Democrat, clerked for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, a Republican. Though O'Connor always made up her own mind, Blanchard says, she encouraged him to express his views.
Blanchard has reached out to the larger Air Force community to try to enlist their participation as bloggers. He recently invited Major General Charles Dunlap Jr., who retired from the Air Force in 2010 and joined the faculty of Duke University Law School, to post to the site. Dunlap is already sharing the blog with his law students. He praised it in an email, noting that it tackles challenging subjects, includes proactive commentary, and isn't "the fluff you might expect from an in-house counsel."
Like any in-house lawyer, however, Blanchard has to keep client confidentiality in the forefront of his mind. He provides legal counsel to Air Force Secretary Michael Donley. And if the secretary comes to him with a question, says Blanchard, "he's not going to want to read my thinking on a blog."