Academic journal article Military Review

Operational Law: Plan and Execute

Academic journal article Military Review

Operational Law: Plan and Execute

Article excerpt

OVER the past decade, the US Army has increasingly integrated operational law and lawyers into military planning and operations. Operational law is an umbrella term used to describe the legal rules that affect military operations in peace and war. Since the mid-1980s, that umbrella has expanded to include overseas military operations and riot control and disaster relief within the United States. As the Army's contingency force, the XVIII Airborne Corps has been at the forefront of many military actions, during which operational law theories and ideas were practiced and refined. This article will describe the role and functions of the corps Staff Judge Advocate (SJA) office during Operations Hawkeye, Just Cause and Desert Shield/Desert Storm. It is not an indepth analysis of legal issues, but a description of personal experiences and recollections.

From July 1988 to May 1991, the XVIII Airborne Corps played a vital role in several significant military operations. The corps was fortunate to have Colonel John Bozeman, a former field artillery and special forces officer with Vietnam combat experience, assigned as the SJA. He realized the growing importance of operational law and took several steps early in his tour that later paid great dividends.

The SJA created a full-time operational law officer position and staffed it initially with the senior lieutenant colonel in the office. Even more important, he convinced the corps G3 to include that lawyer in the corps planning cell and assault command post (CP), the very first corps headquarters group to deploy in a crisis. This met with some resistance because slots in the planning cell and on the assault CP were limited-for every lawyer included, an operations officer, intelligence analyst or logistics planner must be deleted. Bozeman, however, convinced corps leaders that involving lawyers in a mission's early planning and operational stages could prevent problems later. As a result, we learned about pending or possible actions early and were involved in reviewing plans, rules of engagement (ROE) and other potential legal issues. After several deployments and operations, the SJA devised several "hip-pocket" observations for operations lawyers. The first explains why a lawyer should be involved with the planners: If you are not routinely involved in rules of engagement, you will learn about your unit's deployment on CNN. All other legal issues will be afterthoughts. Once the SJA has a foot in the door, he can help planners write and review ROE and ensure other legal issues are not overlooked.

Sometimes, events happen so fast that there is no deliberate planning cycle, which is exactly what happened with Operation Hawkeye in September 1989. Fortunately, the corps staff was accustomed to including lawyers in crisis planning operations. The military, including XVIII Airborne Corps, received favorable publicity for their efforts in Florida after Hurricane Andrew, but that was not the first time XVIII Airborne Corps had been involved in largescale hurricane relief operations.

After Hurricane Hugo devastated parts of the US Virgin Islands, there was widespread looting and chaos on St. Croix. The situation was beyond local police control-the Virgin Islands National Guard was, at best, a nonentity and, at worst, a participant in the breakdown of law and order. Although the governor of the islands initially resisted using federal troops, President George Bush ordered the XVIII Airborne Corps and other units to St. Croix to quell civil disturbances. The situation was uncertain because of the lack of communication with St. Croix. The hurricane had virtually destroyed the federal prison, allowing 500 convicted felons to roam free and add to the chaos on the island. The assistant US attorneys who had prosecuted them feared for their lives.

By 1700 on 20 September 1989, the corps was told to begin deployment. The first C-141 touched down at the devastated airport in St. …

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