The Army Lawyer | Issue 2 2021View PDF

null Tropic Blitz

CPT Allen and other 25th Infantry Division Soldiers executed the Green Mile, a physical endurance course that concluded their training for the Jungle Operations Training Course in April 2021 at Lightning Academy near Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. (Credit: SGT Sarah D. Sangster)

Practice Notes

Tropic Blitz

Discovering the Unknown


[T]here are known knowns. There are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns—the ones we don’t know we don’t know.1

The Problem

As a direct commissioned judge advocate (JA) arriving at your first duty station, straight out of the Officer Basic Course, there are many known unknowns. New JAs know that they do not know everything about Army culture and that they will have to research issues that will, eventually, become second nature. However, there are even more unknown unknowns—the things we do not even realize that we do not know. While new JAs know that they do not know everything about Army culture, they do not know that the things that they don’t know include the fact that you never walk on Ardennes Street on Fort Bragg, North Carolina, or that you never eat the spinach fettucine Meals Ready-to-Eat. And while we may strive for fewer and fewer unknowns with each day on the job, these first duty positions often only give young JAs a narrow viewpoint of the larger office of the staff judge advocate (OSJA).

The Solution

In an effort to close the knowledge gap for new JAs, the 25th Infantry Division (ID) OSJA created a professional development program to push them outside their comfort zones, teach them more about the U.S. Army, and give them broader exposure to different leadership styles. In August 2019, this idea materialized into the “Tropic Blitz” program.2 Prior to May 2020 and the imposition of Coronavirus Disease-2019-related restrictions, five participants had enrolled in the program. Each participant rotated through the 25th ID OSJA and the five subordinate brigade legal sections, charting and observing thirty experiences to grow as lawyers and leaders. Tropic Blitz prepares JAs to operate as part of a staff, advise commanders at different echelons, lead and develop paralegals, and understand their clients.

In April 2019, the 25th ID and U.S. Army Hawaii Staff Judge Advocate (SJA) challenged the brigade JAs and OSJA branch chiefs with a supersized project—develop a program that gives new JAs a “liberal arts degree” of experiences from the 25th ID OSJA. As envisioned, Tropic Blitz would build on the academic learning required in the Judge Advocate Tactical Staff Officer Course (JATSOC) and focus on those foundational experiences all JAs deserve. Additionally, by introducing new JAs to several different leaders within the OSJA, the Tropic Blitz program also broadens the feedback for the JA’s 120-day evaluation. The idea to give new JAs exposure outside of their initial job placement is not new. While other OSJAs have created programs allowing new JAs to walk in the boots of line officers,3 the Tropic Blitz program focuses on exposing participants to the brigade legal sections (BLS) and demonstrating how the BLS supports the brigade mission.

The Experience

As an overview of the Tropic Blitz program, there are two distinct checklists of activities for participants to observe. The first list includes fifteen brigade-level activities and opportunities that new JAs must complete within their first year in the 25th ID OSJA. This list includes, but is not limited to, observing a preferral of charges, first and second readings for non-judicial punishment, and a court-martial proceeding. Likewise, JAs should experience an internal legal tracker meeting, an in-brief to an Army Regulation 15-6 investigating officer, and a command and staff meeting at the brigade level. The prioritization of understanding brigade-level operations allows Tropic Blitz participants to learn about the tactical Army. The second list then encourages participation in operational Army experiences at the division level. Participants are encouraged to lead a physical training session for the division OSJA, participate in a field or combat training exercise, or attend a chief of staff brief.

Individual participants, assisted by the Tropic Blitz program coordinator, are responsible for their own progression through the Tropic Blitz program; they are expected to complete activities while balancing their initial job training and responsibilities. They have up to one year to complete the program. Participants rotate monthly between the Sustainment Brigade, the Combat Aviation Brigade, Division Artillery, 2d Infantry Brigade Combat Team, and 3d Infantry Brigade Combat Team. After each rotation with a brigade, the participants complete an after action review with the brigade judge advocate and submit a monthly report to the program coordinator.

The Coordination

The Tropic Blitz program coordinator is vital to the success of the program. The program coordinator carries the additional responsibilities to align participants, coordinate participation, and compile monthly reports from all the participants—in addition to their regularly assigned duties and responsibilities. Selecting the right program coordinator is crucial. The program coordinator must be organized, responsible, and mature as they mentor new JAs and resolve issues that come up between different OSJA sections and units. As a problem solver, the program coordinator must be approachable and have strong communication skills. As an office organizer, the program coordinator aligns participants with the subordinate brigades, which requires de-conflicting several calendars and priorities. Creating the position of program coordinator has given the 25th ID OSJA an opportunity to fill an informal leadership position with a junior captain. This gives the added benefit of allowing the program coordinator to refine their leadership skills.

The Challenges

One obstacle to overcome has been balancing initial job training, duty performance, and the Tropic Blitz checklists. Tropic Blitz is an important and valuable program for new JAs; however, it does not take priority over the participants’ assigned duties. It can be a struggle and source of healthy stress for new JAs to make time in their schedules for Tropic Blitz. It is also incumbent on supervisors to remain flexible to allow participants to complete the Tropic Blitz requirements. Clear communication between participants, officers-in-charge, and brigade judge advocates can mitigate this problem. Early notice of future alignment with brigade legal sections and early feedback on upcoming events empowers collective planning.

A second challenge is the ever-present ethical responsibility to current and former clients required by state and local bars and Army Regulation 27-26.4 Tropic Blitz participants may be assigned as a legal assistance or client services attorney. After the first year, JAs may serve as a special victims’ counsel or military justice advisor. The activities and observed discussions at the brigade level may involve a current or former client. Participants should be aware of their ethical responsibilities, and supervisors must discuss these possible situations and plan for this issue to come up. Supervisor engagement about ethical responsibilities is essential for a successful Tropic Blitz program, and it should happen early and often. Practically, it encourages healthy habits for client services attorneys to be aware of potential conflicts of interest, to keep a list of current and former clients, and to professionally handle any meetings or discussions if a client’s name or case is mentioned.

The Result

As the initial group of participants neared the end of the program, the benefits for not only the participants, but also for the OSJA and the Army as a whole, have become clear. It gives those JAs who might not get the opportunity to be assigned to a brigade while at 25th ID an opportunity to better understand the Army’s brigade-centered approach. Captain Phillip Brown—one of the participants who went from legal assistance to a division trial counsel position—said,

Tropic Blitz has provided me with an opportunity to see how the Army functions at the brigade level and the role of the various [JAs] and paralegals within the brigades. I witnessed how crucial the brigades are in winning the close fight and how that role differs from the division and corps. Most of my [Tropic Blitz] experience took place during my time in legal assistance, and I think this made the experience even more valuable. I do not think I would have become as good of an officer without Tropic Blitz. Tropic Blitz helped me understand the Army much better and filled in a lot of the gaps from [the Direct Commission Course and the Officer Basic Course].5

Perhaps the most meaningful aspect of the program is that it builds and strengthens relationships between the participants and OSJA members they would not have worked with if not for Tropic Blitz. In addition to growing interpersonal relationships, participants are also exposed to the different leadership styles of commanders and JAs. Some leaders spend more time curating in-depth experiences for the participants, while others allow the participants and program coordinator to work directly with the other captains and paralegals to complete requirements on the checklist. Whichever way you choose, the Tropic Blitz Program creates more known knowns, more known unknowns, and fewer unknown unknowns about the diverse opportunities that the Judge Advocate General’s Corps has in store. TAL


CPT Allen is a national security law attorney for the 3d Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii.


Notes

1. See David A. Graham, Rumsfeld’s Knowns and Unknowns: The Intellectual History of a Quip, Atlantic (Mar. 27, 2014), https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2014/03/rumsfelds-knowns-and-unknowns-the-intellectual-history-of-a-quip/359719/ (quoting Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld).

2. Captain Cora Allen, Direct Commissionee Professional Development Program, MilBook (Jan. 31, 2020, 9:57 PM), https://www.milsuite.mil/book/thread/225895 (Tropic Blitz resources are available in the Leadership, Management, and Training Group on milSuite).

3. For comparison, the First Armored Division OSJA created the “Muddy Boots” program. Muddy Boots started in February 2016 and was designed to introduce new JAs to the day-to-day operations of a company-sized unit. Muddy Boots assigned participants to shadow another first lieutenant, ideally a company executive officer, in a line unit for one week. This meant junior JAs benefitted from following company executive officers around motor pools, platoon meetings, maintenance meetings, company training meetings, and battalion meetings. Through this program, JAs learned a greater appreciation for the demands on companies, which then also enabled the participants to better advise Army commanders.

4. See U.S. Dep’t of Army, Reg. 27-26, Rules of Professional Conduct for Lawyers (28 June 2018).

5. Email from author to Tropic Blitz participants, subject: Program Feedback (Mar. 15, 2020) (on file with author).

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