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Most lawyers who work for Uncle Sam lead routines not all that different from their peers at corporations or law firms. But one group of government attorneys gets out of the office more often � indeed, right now, they’re getting out a lot. They’re the lawyers of the Army’s Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps. For the past two decades, judge advocates have played a quiet but crucial role in military operations � advising on battle plans, target selection, and matters of international law. Nearly 200 JAGs are currently serving in Iraq, and because of the nature of the Army’s mission, they’ve become more involved than ever in military planning. “The nature of issues that come up in peacekeeping operations are highly complex and often more demanding than the issues that arise in combat,” explains retired General John Altenburg, Jr. The Army’s second-highest-ranking uniformed lawyer from 1997 to 2001, Altenburg is now of counsel in the D.C. office of Greenberg Traurig. Indeed, while peacekeeping missions are known by the acronym LIC � short for “low-intensity conflict” � Army lawyers joke that the letters actually stand for “legally intensive conflict.” Among the myriad tasks that the Army’s lawyers face in Iraq: training troops on rules of engagement; overseeing the detention and interrogation of civilians; establishing a new Iraqi legal system; screening out judges who had connections to the Baath party; settling property damage claims by Iraqi civilians against the U.S. government; answering fiscal law questions; prosecuting crimes committed by soldiers; and providing legal assistance to deployed troops. But a judge advocate remains a soldier first and a lawyer second, and high risk comes with the job. Last November two senior members of the Army’s legal staff died in a helicopter crash near Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit. The two officials were the most senior nonlawyers in the Army JAG Corps. Their deaths “really hit home for a lot of us,” says Captain Sebastian Edwards, a 31-year-old judge advocate stationed at Fort Hood, Texas. Edwards serves as trial counsel for the First Brigade of the First Cavalry Division, which will be deployed to Iraq this spring. “You don’t anticipate having a judge advocate killed in combat,” Edwards explains. “Traditionally, we’re not on the front lines.” There are no front or rear lines in Iraq, however. Nine Army judge advocates and legal specialists have been awarded Purple Hearts for injuries sustained in the conflict there. Last fall JAG Keith Bracey, a claims specialist with the First Armored Division, received the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star for pulling a wounded American soldier out of a burning vehicle after a rocket-propelled grenade attack. To better prepare its lawyers for duty in the field, in 1995 the Army began including judge advocates in its regular training exercises at Fort Irwin, California. “At our training centers, lawyers are integrated into the overall exercise,” says Altenburg. “Knowing how to respond correctly to a legal problem ends up being just as important as having soldiers who can shoot straight.” In preparation for their deployment to Iraq, Captain Edwards and the First Brigade took part in a ten-day training exercise at Fort Irwin last fall. The heart of the base’s National Training Center is a 1,000-square-mile tract of land in the Mojave Desert, so barren that fighter jets can drop live bombs and so remote that soldiers can fire live ammunition. In the First Brigade’s training session, six villages in the fictional country of Artesia were populated by hundreds of “civilians” � actually members of Fort Irwin’s Eleventh Armored Cavalry Regiment. The exercise clearly simulated postwar Iraq. Some of the “civilians” acted friendly to Edwards’s brigade; others were hostile. On its first day of training, the visiting brigade mistakenly “bombed” a United Nations vehicle. Edwards led an investigation into the incident and found that his fellow troops acted appropriately. He opened another investigation after soldiers failed to fill out the proper paperwork for a group of civilians caught with bomb-making materials in their vehicles. Edwards also coordinated several trips to meet with local government officials and to settle claims brought by civilians. Inside the First Brigade planning tent, where Edwards spent much of his time, sleep-deprived men assembled nightly to discuss the next day’s objectives. Dozens of restless soldiers sat around a U-shaped table and pecked at their laptop computers. Past battles may have been fought with tanks and guns, but modern warfare, it seems, is waged with PowerPoint. “Without PowerPoint,” jokes one soldier, “this place would implode.” Still, despite the technological complexity, the most basic lessons can be the most critical for JAGs. “The simple things are the things that can really get you in trouble quickly,” says Captain Christopher Kennebeck, an Army lawyer stationed at Fort Irwin as one of more than 700 observer-controllers who develop and monitor training. “Drink water. Eat food. Keep your weapons clean. Make sure your radio works,” Kennebeck continues. “Lawyers are used to an office environment. We need to train them to think about all those things before they leave.” Compared to the training exercise at Fort Irwin, Edwards suggests that his work in Iraq may actually be easier. “Over there, I think I’ll be better resourced,” he says. “I think the pace will be a lot slower, so I’ll be able to give greater attention to the issues I’m dealing with.”

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