CAMP LEATHERNECK, Helmand Province, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan --
The 18th president of the United States and a former general in the US Army, Ulysses S. Grant said, “The art of war is simple enough. Find out where your enemy is. Get at him as soon as you can. Strike him as hard as you can, and keep moving on.”
Hundreds of laws and codes have been written and refined concerning how war is conducted since Grant said those famous words over 140 years ago; making the wars fought today a more complicated process than any fought during or before the 1860s.
While commanders work feverishly to make the correct tactical decisions to complete their missions the most efficient way possible, the 2nd Marine Division (Forward) Staff Judge Advocate Office is at their sides to help ensure the decisions made conform to the current laws.
“I’ve heard people refer to the lawyers and judge advocates as the moral compass of the command,” said Maj. Geoffrey Shows, the deputy SJA for 2nd Marine Division (Forward). “The command already has a (strong understanding on what is moral and humane and what isn’t). The SJA provides a perspective from the legal side of things.”
The Gonzales, La., native along with Lt. Col. Jonathan Hitesman, the SJA for the division, are the Marines responsible for providing any of the legal advice and support needed by the division.
“We don’t provide the same function as the SJA shops in the (Marine Expeditionary Force) or at other levels of the division, back in the rear,” Shows said. “Whenever division Marines come to us we normally send them to the SJA shops at the MEF, who have a large staff of Marine lawyers who specialize in specific fields like military justice. Our job, specifically, is to think about everything the division is planning from a legal perspective. If the general has a question, we’re the guys he can come to concerning all things legal.”
The division’s SJA shop’s additional duties include keeping the general up-to-date on the progress with detainees brought in by Marines or the Afghan National Security Forces, delivering daily reports to the general, and sitting in on all the meetings to ensure the legality of the decisions being made.
“We don’t represent an individual Marine in a case like a court martial, but we represent the command,” said Hitesman, a native of Brooklyn Park, Minn., with more than 15 years experience as a Marine judge advocate. “But I also have to balance that with my duty to the US government. So if our command is doing something that is wrong, my duty to the government is to bring our command back into compliance or take it up to the next level.”
Hitesman says this isn’t a problem that comes up very often though. In most cases, it’s taken care of well before the meetings when the general’s staff pays a visit to the SJA office to ensure if something is legal. Shows and Hitesman are able to talk with them about it and make sure everything’s on the right track.
“For DOD, the ethics side of everything really is law. There is no difference for us between ethics and law,” said Hitesman. “There are standards of conduct and regulations, so SJA’s are the ethics advisors for the commanding general and his staff. I can give direct and personal, legal, and ethical advice to an individual.”
Both Hitesman and Shows say they love the job they do and they wouldn’t want to be in any other billet as a judge advocate.
“No day is the same here, and there’s not a lot of downtime,” said Shows. “Being out here is an excellent opportunity and experience for a deployment. I couldn’t be more pleased with the work I’m doing and who I’m working for.”
Editor’s note: 2nd Marine Division (Forward) serves as the ground combat element of Regional Command (Southwest) and works in partnership with the Afghan National Security Force and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to conduct counterinsurgency operations. The unit is dedicated to securing the Afghan people, defeating insurgent forces, and enabling ANSF assumption of security responsibilities within its area of operations in order to support the expansion of stability, development and legitimate governance.