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A New Era for the JAG Corps

By Vice Adm. James W. Crawford III, Judge Advocate General of the Navy

On Dec. 8, 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the establishment of the Navy Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps. With the stroke of a pen, he ushered in a critically important era of legal administration within the Navy.

Law Specialists had been practicing in the Navy since 1946; however, the law signed by President Johnson cemented their status as a distinct professional group. And – to paraphrase retired Rear Adm. John E. ‘Ted’ Gordon, the 33rd Judge Advocate General of the Navy – during the next 50 years, judge advocates became the conscience of the worldwide Navy community.

I was a child of the 1960s, a time characterized by the pursuit of social justice. During my formative years, I saw how individuals of character – people like Thurgood Marshall, who was named the first African American Supreme Court Justice by President Johnson – wielded the law to enact positive change.

And, like virtually all of my colleagues, I was drawn to the JAG Corps because it is a profession with purpose. It is an opportunity to apply our skills – and to apply the law – in service to our country.

In 1968, one year after the organization’s inception, the JAG Corps insignia was approved by the Navy Uniform Board. The insignia – a mill rinde with two gold oak leaves – is a powerful symbol of the JAG Corps ethos.

The mill rinde signifies the wheels of military justice grinding evenly and directly. The oak leaves illustrate the strength of the hulls of our first Navy ships. And the balance of the two leaves symbolize the scales of justice. Today’s judge advocates wear our insignia proudly, and, every day, they strive to live up to its promise.

During its 50-year history, the Navy JAG Corps has been defined by service and excellence. From the Vietnam era, to the war against terrorism, to today’s competition at sea and in cyberspace, the JAG Corps has provided legal solutions to commanders facing the toughest decisions. Our multi-talented, multi-disciplined judge advocates have been a source of steady and faithful counsel.

Our 50th anniversary marks the beginning of a new chapter of the JAG Corps. Today’s world is volatile; it is changing every day in unexpected ways. The JAG Corps – and our wider military community – must anticipate and adapt to those rapid changes.

And while the pace of change poses challenges, I am exceedingly optimistic about the future of the JAG Corps.

Without question, our judge advocates face incredibly high stakes in their daily work, and they wrestle with increasingly complex legal issues. But they are more diverse and skilled than ever before. Drawing on their varied backgrounds and experiences, they are creatively tackling our Navy’s thorniest problems.

Like President Johnson, we are ushering in a transformative new era. Today’s JAG Corps is agile, innovative and poised to break new ground. As we look ahead to the next 50 years, the legacy of the JAG Corps will evolve – and our judge advocates will enrich the Navy – in new and exciting ways.