The Army Lawyer | November/December 2018View PDF

null Demolishing the Foundation of Five


The Army Lawyer


Demolishing the Foundation of Five



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The Army JAG Corps should abandon the Foundation of Five as a leadership model because it has no basis in Army doctrine, confuses the chain-of-command and noncommissioned officer (NCO) support channels, and de-emphasizes members of the organization. This unique leadership model describes a group of people at JAG Corps offices that serve in certain roles. Across the force, the members of the Foundation of Five include the staff judge advocate, the deputy staff judge advocate, the legal administrator, the command paralegal, and the senior civilian. While these five individuals usually comprise the foundation in the vast majority of installations, there are variations on the members, and it does not always include five persons. Whatever the case may be, its best use is not as a leadership model, but rather a technique or tool to build consensus and promote collaboration.

Army Regulation (AR) 600-20, Army Command Policy is one doctrinal reference that discusses accountable leadership and command and why a clear and articulable chain of command is paramount to ensure mission success. Paragraph 2-1a, provides in part, “A simple and direct chain of command facilitates the transmittal of orders from the highest to the lowest levels in a minimum of time and with the least chance misinterpretation.”1 This regulation goes on to articulate the role of the NCO support channel as an important concept in Army leadership doctrine. It states, in part, “[T]he NCO support channel (leadership chain) parallels and complements the chain of command.”2 These two sections are a small part of this overarching command policy regulation, but the point is that doctrine envisions a single individual being solely responsible for the successes and failures of an organization; and, effective use of the chain of command through subordinate leaders is vital in achieving these successes. Simplifying the chain of command and leveraging the NCO support channel promotes efficiencies in units and places those in and outside the organization on notice that decisions, responsibility and information flow up and down the chain, and a single individual at the top is ultimately accountable.

The Foundation of Five model conflicts with this basic paradigm. No other branch in the Army uses the same or similar language when referring to certain members of its teams.3 In this regard, Field Manual 1-04, Legal Support to the Operational Army,4 stands alone.5 Paragraph 4-20 states,

The SJA leads the OSJA at the level of division headquarters and above and at installations that support operational units. The SJA manages and leads with the help of key advisors: the deputy SJA, the legal administrator, the command or chief paralegal NCO, and the civilian advisor. Together, they are known as the foundation of five. With the advice and assistance of the other members of the foundation of five, the SJA ensures that the OSJA is led, trained, equipped, and supported in a manner to accomplish the mission. The foundation of five is a flexible and dynamic concept. SJAs should tailor the concept individually depending on their mission and office structure. Each division within the OSJA has a division chief and a noncommissioned officer in charge who receives direction, guidance, and support from senior leadership.6

The Foundation of Five as a leadership concept simply does not reconcile with core Army doctrine. Comparing the substance of this clause with those cited earlier in AR 600-20 illustrate the confusing nature associated with the Foundation of Five concept. Army Regulation 600-20 describes chains of command as simple, direct, and easily ascertainable. In addition, NCO support channels aid in the use and execution of the chain of command. On the other hand, in defining the JAG Corps’ leadership model, FM 1-04 provides that the supervisory SJA has a set of key advisors, but the use and authority of these advisors may change based on “mission and office structure.”7 Furthermore, subordinate division chiefs and NCOs in charge receive “direction, guidance, and support from senior leadership.”8 Presumably, these senior leaders are members of the Foundation of Five whose duties and authorities are ever changing. This is just a difficult leadership model to apply in military organizations where clear chains of command and support channels ensure resource efficiencies and assign appropriate authority and responsibility.

Probably the most obvious problem is the use of the word foundation as part of a naming convention to describe the senior members of an organization. Used in this context, Webster’s defines a foundation as “a body or ground upon which something is built up or overlaid.”9 Army JAG Corps offices are not built upon the SJA, the deputy SJA, the legal administrator, the command paralegal, and the designated senior civilian. Arguing otherwise discounts the basic definition of foundation and ignores the structural building blocks of military organizations. While these individuals are essential in delivering legal support, and perform vital functions as The Judge Advocate General’s representatives in the field, the body upon which the JAG Corps enterprise rests are the junior members of our team. The captains, junior NCOs, junior paralegals, civilian attorneys, and paraprofessionals are the actual foundation of the organization. Day-in and day-out, these individuals take the calls, get the transmittals signed, send the emails, draft the motions, and call the PT formations to attention. They are the JAG Corps’ base and its support.

One benefit in moving away from using the Foundation of Five as a leadership model is that it will provide a paradigm shift in the organization and emphasize the most valuable assets in the JAG Corps—the junior judge advocates (JAs) and junior paralegals. These two groups are the organization’s most important resource. The JAG Corps mission to provide principled legal counsel and premier legal services to the Army fails without the efforts of JAs and junior paralegals. This is not to say that other members of the team are not important and not value added. Rather, in objectively assessing the source of the JAG Corps power, it is this population’s capacity and the critical capabilities it provides that allow the enterprise to achieve its objective and attain the desired end state. Eliminating the Foundation of Five as a leadership model is one small step in renewing focus on the JAG Corps’ front line troops.

Even though the JAG Corps should eliminate the Foundation of Five as a leadership model, there is value in preserving the notion as a means, in some situations, to get buy-in and build consensus among the diverse populations of the enterprise. Leaders need advice and counsel, and while this concept may be the method to do, it should not be codified in JAG Corps doctrine and promoted as a model to lead offices across the Army. TAL


MAJ Powell is a Future Concepts Officer within the Legal Center at TJAGLCS in Charlottesville, Virginia.


1. U.S. Dep’t of Army, Reg. 600-20, Army Command Policy para. 2-1a. (6 Nov. 2014).

2. Id. at para. 2-18a.

3. Asserted after an exhaustive search through doctrine in the Army Publishing Directorate (

4. U.S. Dep’t of Army, Field Manual 1-04, Legal Support to the Operational Army (18 Mar. 2013) [hereinafter FM 1-04].

5. A new version of FM 1-04 is currently being drafted to nest with the latest version of FM 3-0, Operations. Whether the Foundation of Five concept survives in the new draft is unknown.

6. FM 1-04, supra note 4 at para. 4-20.

7. Id.

8. Id.

9. Foundation,, (last visited Aug. 25 2018).