JAGC paratroopers assigned to the 82d Airborne Division complete as many rope climbs as they can within five minutes during their first JAG Olympics at Fort Bragg, NC. (Photo credit: SGT Christopher Gallagher)
Beginning on 31 December 2019, the 82d Airborne Division executed its most significant no-notice deployment in more than thirty years.1 As tensions with Iran escalated, nearly 3,500 paratroopers of the Army’s Immediate Response Force (IRF), including 10 judge advocates (JAs) and paralegals, rapidly deployed to the Middle East.2 The first elements of this force departed Fort Bragg fewer than eighteen hours after receiving orders. The rest of the force joined shortly thereafter and maintained a presence in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility for several months, ensuring the nation was ready to rapidly and decisively respond to any acts of aggression.
The unit cohesion, discipline, and readiness required to successfully execute such a feat does not manifest overnight but is built in pieces day to day. “Be ready” is not merely a motto for the 82d Airborne Division. Rather, it is a way of life, a culture, which permeates everything the Division does and is. This Azimuth Check provides insight into the ways the Army’s only Airborne Division and its assigned legal professionals ensure they remain ready for anything, anytime, anywhere.
From its initial jumps into Sicily, Salerno, and Normandy in World War II through present day, the 82d Airborne Division has always considered its little groups of paratroopers (LGOPs) key to how it fights and wins on the battlefield.3 These groups of typically two-to-four mostly junior Soldiers must understand and be able to execute the commander’s intent when geographically separated from formal leadership. The successful execution of decentralized military operations requires the most senior leaders to relinquish tight control and oversight over their troops. Similarly, the most junior paratrooper must earn their commander’s trust that they will exercise disciplined initiative and sound judgment.
With this goal in mind, the Division seeks to form cohesive squads, sections, and crews capable of successfully executing the mission.4 To operate in potentially austere and dangerous conditions, LGOPs must be disciplined, master the fundamentals, and understand their leaders’ intent. This is as true for junior JAs and paralegals who may have to operate while disconnected from senior JAs as it is for other paratroopers in the Division. Members of the 82d Airborne Division Office of the Staff Judge Advocate (OSJA) train to fulfill all assigned roles: Soldier, legal professional, paratrooper.
The 82d Airborne Division puts a premium on basic paratrooper skills and physical fitness. The OSJA regularly participates in training focused on ensuring all paratroopers are qualified marksmen, confident using their communications equipment, and capable of performing basic lifesaving functions on their fellow paratroopers. Additionally, JAs train for analog operations and are expected to dominate even in a contested electromagnetic environment. Finally, the Division, and the OSJA in particular, designs and implements functional fitness programs that relate directly to combat tasks to prepare its paratroopers for the mental and physical rigors of ground combat operations.
The JAs and paralegals of the 82d Airborne Division must not only meet these high paratrooper standards, they must similarly possess the substantive legal mastery needed to support the Division. To that end, the legal team prioritizes section- and office-wide legal training events and leader professional development to ensure our legal LGOPs are prepared to provide the necessary principled counsel—even when separated from senior JAs—to the leaders and paratroopers of the Division.5 A key component of this training effort is ensuring Division JAs and paralegals understand their leaders’ intent, are empowered to take the initiative within that intent, and can provide legal advice in any environment.
Deploy, Fight, and Win Anywhere in 18 Hours
As the nation’s main airborne contingency force, the 82d must be ready to deploy, fight, and win anywhere in the world in eighteen hours. To be truly prepared for whatever the nation might demand requires a strict focus on readiness. The Division’s main mission is to deploy and defeat any adversary, anywhere, in any environment as part of a joint and coalition force. To meet this mission, the Division’s paratroopers, including OSJA members, must be ready to respond quickly to alerts, maintain airborne proficiency, and operate in the most austere of environments.
Recall alerts are a regular part of life for the men and women of the Division. Each unit must be able to marshal its team members for a potential rapid deployment. The Division routinely conducts emergency deployment readiness exercises to test a unit’s ability to alert, assemble, and conduct paratrooper readiness tasks. These realistic exercises serve an important purpose in preparing a unit to assume the role of a dedicated IRF. There have been many a night when your authors have received the much-anticipated recall alert, groggily rolled out of bed, grabbed the essential ruck sack, and made their way to the Division footprint to check in. While not always the most glamorous part of the job, practicing for the moment when the recall alert does not say “EXERCISE EXERCISE EXERCISE” is essential to springing into action when truly needed.
In addition to recall rehearsals, the 82d Airborne Division frequently conducts airborne operations, often called “jumps,” to achieve and maintain proficiency in airborne infiltration as the cornerstone of its readiness efforts. Future near-peer adversaries will undoubtedly seek to deny access to key terrain to American and coalition forces. The Division, with its airborne proficiency, provides the nation a credible, ready, and lethal unit to dislodge the enemy and gain access to key terrain. The Division therefore focuses its airborne training on improving its capability to jump behind enemy lines and secure terrain that allows for insertion of additional troops and logistics. Through repeated nighttime mass tactical jumps, paratroopers hone their airborne proficiency under combat-replicating conditions.
Finally, if rapidly deployed, the IRF paratroopers from the 82d Airborne Division will likely find themselves dropped into an extremely austere environment. The Division focuses on sustaining lethality during an airborne assault even under unforgiving conditions. The unit’s JAs and paralegals regularly train on how to provide legal advice and support with only the items they jump with into combat. As part of this approach, they rely heavily on having key analog products and legal resources in their legal kit bag.
Transform the Division
In addition to the 82d Airborne Division’s extensive efforts to train and prepare its forces for rapid deployments, it simultaneously looks to innovate and transform for the future. The Division must rapidly adapt and outthink future near-peer adversaries. Success depends on dominating any enemy in the physical, virtual, and cognitive spaces.6 To prepare for these complex environments, the Division routinely incorporates and leverages new technologies, including several artificial intelligence-powered tools that help aggregate battlefield data and create flat, fast, accurate, and lethal kill chains by honing its observe-orient-decide-act loop. A team of JAs in the Division examines the legal implications of these potential modernization efforts, ensuring the Division can fully leverage emerging technology while maintaining steadfast adherence to the law of armed conflict.
Heeding Lieutenant General Charles Pede’s constant drumbeat to “Be Ready,” the JAs and paralegals of today’s 82d Airborne Division are preparing, on a daily basis, for the fluid combat situations of Battlefield Next. They strive to be ready at a moment’s notice for whatever the nation demands, and they better themselves through rigorous training and self-improvement. Of course, today’s paratroopers are merely maintaining the legacy of readiness and preparedness of this storied Division. They stand on the shoulders of those legal giants who deployed rapidly to places like the European Theater, Grenada, Panama, and various Middle East locations. The hope—and the plan!—is that they will be ready to follow those sterling examples and honor that legacy when their time comes. All The Way! Airborne! TAL
COL Thurnher is the Staff Judge Advocate for the 82d Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
MAJ Davis is the Deputy Staff Judge Advocate for the 82d Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
CW2 Simmons is the Senior Legal Administrator for the 82d Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
SGM Wilkerson is the Command Paralegal NCO for the 82d Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
1. Nearly 800 Soldiers Return Home After Middle East Deployment, U.S. Army (20 Feb. 2020), https://www.army.mil/article/232951/nearly_800_soldiers_return_home_after_middle_east_deployment.
2. The 82d Airborne legal personnel who deployed as part of the Immediate Response Force included Major (MAJ) Emily Geisinger, MAJ (then-Captain (CPT)) John Loscheider, CPT Robert Clopton, CPT Hayley Boyd, Sergeant (SGT) Joshua Mass, SGT (then-corporal (CPL)) Sawyer Roberts, CPL (then-specialist (SPC)) Ryan Ferguson, SPC Kadeem Williams, SPC Caden Schneider, and SPC Bringham Blundell.
3. Drew Brooks, 82nd Airborne Podcast Examines LGOPs as a Building Block of the Division’s Fighting Capabilities, Fayetteville Observer (May 7, 2017, 2:01 AM), https://www.fayobserver.com/news/20170507/82nd-airborne-podcast-examines-lgops-as-building-block-of-divisions-fighting-capabilities.
4. Steve DeVane, Is Leading the 82nd Airborne the ‘Coolest Job Ever’? The New Commanding General Thinks It Is, Fayetteville Observer (Aug. 29, 2020, 2:06 PM), https://www.fayobserver.com/story/ news/military/2020/08/28/82nd-airborne-commander-fort-bragg-brings-diverse-background/5646615002/.