When your Army career is over and the Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps is a fond memory, what do you miss the most? Ask your former judge advocate friends that question, and you will hear many different answers. Some will tell you they miss serving our country, some miss meaningful military missions, some miss the varied legal work, and some long for travel and adventure. But almost everyone will tell you, “the people.” Most will say what they miss most are Soldiers and their Families, and the special bonds and good times forged by common experiences and challenging situations.
The Retired Army Judge Advocate Association (RAJA) was created in 1976 to continue that camaraderie. The Korean government invited retired judge advocate veterans of the Korean War and their spouses to return to Korea to observe the tremendous progress that the country had made following the war. That reunion motivated those in attendance to return home, create RAJA, Inc., and plan the next RAJA meeting at the JAG School in Charlottesville shortly thereafter. According to Colonel John Jay Douglass, the name was “born high over the Pacific on the return flight from Seoul to the United States.”1
For forty-four years, retired active, Reserve, and National Guard judge advocates have met annually in different locations to enjoy the company of old friends, make new friends, and simply have fun. There are currently over 300 members.2 Over the last few years, RAJA members have accomplished that objective while meeting in Honolulu, Baltimore, Colorado Springs, Tucson, Orlando, and Savannah.
This year, RAJA traveled to Las Vegas for the annual meeting that was hosted by Scott and Kim Black (Scott Black served as The Judge Advocate General from 2005–2009), Mike and Lorraine Kennett, and Wayne Price. They put together a winning combination of fun, food, and fellowship for the 136 members who attended the 44th annual RAJA meeting.
Al Toomey teed up the Thursday events with an early morning golf tournament on the Concord Course at the Revere Golf Club. Talk about a sand trap—the entire course is surrounded by the beautiful Nevada desert. Meanwhile, a group of explorers set off on a walking tour of Las Vegas Boulevard, the Linq, and the Bellagio Conservatory and Botanical Gardens.
The Thursday night icebreaker marked the traditional start of the festivities. Fond friendships were made and renewed over great food, libations, and conversation. This year there were nine members attending their first RAJA meeting, including Jeff and Teresa Addicott, Jose and Barbara Aguirre, Dean Eveland and Lynn Siegfried, Bill and June Jones, and Edye Ulmer Moran.
Following a ten-minute business meeting (“members of RAJA still pride themselves on having the shortest possible annual ‘business meetings,’ with the goal of accomplishing all business in less than ten minutes”3) on Friday morning, RAJA members were treated to informative presentations by Lieutenant General Charles N. Pede, The Judge Advocate General (TJAG), and Brigadier General Marilyn S. Chiafullo, Commanding General of the United States Army Reserve Legal Command. “Since [the] inaugural event [in 1977], the sitting TJAG has always been invited to RAJA’s annual gathering.”4 Lieutenant General Pede spoke about the State of the Corps and Brigadier General Chiafullo spoke about the State of the Reserve and National Guard components. Retired Army Judge Advocate Association is appreciative to them for spending their valuable time with us. Moreover, the presence of two serving JAG general officers at a RAJA meeting highlights and strengthens the special bond that exists among generations of career judge advocates.
After lunch, we boarded busses bound for the Mob Museum. There, in a repurposed courthouse, we witnessed the story of prohibition and the rise and fall of organized crime across the nation, including Las Vegas. Certain “criminal elements” in our group conspired to conclude the tour in a secret room hidden behind a six-foot painting in a basement speakeasy. Friday night was free for friends to enjoy fine dining and graduate course reunions.
Saturday included a tour of the Hoover Dam, power plant, and bridge, along with shopping and lunch in Boulder City. Those who attended were impressed by the miraculous engineering of the Hoover Dam—a feat that literally transformed the desert. The camaraderie everyone experienced on the bus and during the tour could not have been better. The day’s activities concluded with the traditional RAJA banquet featuring more great food and a spirited awards presentation.
Over four decades later, RAJA continues to operate without a building, paid officers, or permanent staff, but with the powerful and simple mission of continuing the camaraderie among those who completed a career of service as judge advocates. Retired judge advocates do not have to miss the good old days with JAG Corps friends. They can join them again, build new friendships, share new adventures, and continue the camaraderie as RAJA members. For more information about RAJA, visit our website at rajaassn.org or join us we when we meet in Omaha, Nebraska, in 2020, and then Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2021. TAL
Mr. Gerstenlauer is the circuit executive for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit and the RAJA President.
* This article is written in my personal capacity and does not reflect the opinions of the Federal Judiciary or the Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.
1. Fred. L Borch III, Camaraderie After the Corps: A History of the Retired Army Judge Advocate Association,Army Law., Apr. 2015.