Air Force JAs help TV network make history
The walls are adorned with farewell plaques, college degrees, and pictures of historical figures. On the book shelf, next to a substantial coin collection, are dozens of literary works, including "Art of War" by Sun Tzu, "Strategy" by B.H. Liddell Hart and the "Airman's Manual."
With the exception of several law degrees and a handful of gavels, the office could be mistaken for any senior leader's workspace.
On June 19, however, the general's office was transformed into a miniature production studio, complete with coils of audio/video cables, a 1,000-watt tent light, a microphone suspended above the desk, and a three-person production crew.
The crew wasn't there to cover the intricacies of Air Force workspaces. They were after another story - a story that involved Brig. Gen. Jarisse J. Sanborn, the first female judge advocate to reach the rank of brigadier general.
General Sanborn -- Chief Counsel for U.S. Transportation Command and staff judge advocate for Air Mobility Command -- joined a small group of prominent U.S. military judge advocates that will be featured on an upcoming History Channel production, "The Real JAGs." The two-hour documentary is being produced by Greystone Communications and will air later this year.
Jim Lindsay, a writer/producer for Greystone Communications, interviewed General Sanborn.
"We're producing a show on the 'real' life of the JAGs, as opposed to the fictional one you see on TV," Mr. Lindsay said.
He said one of the things that peaked his interest in the show is that the JA career field is an area of the armed services that rarely gets a lot of publicity.
Mr. Lindsay said he has already interviewed a handful of active and reitred military judge advocates and plans to interview seven or eight more.
He said he selects interview subjects based on several criteria.
"Our selection process boils down to a couple of things. One of them is 'firsts.' Being the first to do something is significant. Another key to the selection process is people who worked behind the scenes in an important capacity in a high-profile event," Mr. Lindsay said.
According to Mr. Lindsay, General Sanborn is joining an impressive list of military judge advocates.
He said he has already interviewed retired Col. J. Jeremiah Mahoney, an Air Force colonel who holds the record for having the longest career as a military judge, and Col. William Colwell, an Air Force JA who was involved with the "Black Hawk Down" investigation. He also interviewed former Air Force judge advocates retired Col. Philip Deavel and retired Col. Howard Donaldson.
"I really look for stories that illustrate a certain theme," said Mr. Lindsay. "Quite frankly, in the beginning, I don't always know what that theme is. Very early on, I discovered the theme for ['The Real JAGs' documentary.] The word is 'ethics.' The level of ethics and high standards in the military is, so far, superior to that in civilian law. It's amazing."
Mr. Lindsay said he has interviewed a variety of judge advocates -- from a young officer responsible for handling wartime insurance claims, to JAs who write wills, and others responsible for advising senior military leaders. He said his interviews with military JAs have altered his view of the military justice system.
"While I'm sure this will be an arguable point, I think JAs are, to a degree, the conscience of the military," said Mr. Lindsay. "In civil law, 'conscience' rarely enters the decision-making process. Decisions are made purely on the law. While that is certainly the case with the JAG ... they not only have to deal with civilian law, they also have to deal with rules of engagement and international law ... but there's another level and that's 'what is right?' What is the right thing to do?
"One of the questions I've asked several times is, how do you tell a group of young soldiers ... who have just seen a few of their buddies killed by a suicide bomber ... how do you tell them that they have to step up and be the better person?"
Mr. Lindsay said that question has generated a similar response from each JA he has interviewed.
"They tell their soldiers that they represent the United States and they want the people in these foreign countries to know that the U.S. military cares about what is right. That attitude has really become the underlining theme of this documentary," explained Mr. Lindsay. "I have yet to interview a single JAG who was not outstanding."
He said General Sanborn was no exception.
"We did not interview General Sanborn because she's a woman," Mr. Lindsay explained. "One of the things we look for in a documentary is a particular landmark in the evolution of an organization. General Sanborn's career is a landmark."
Mr. Lindsay agreed that the fact that General Sanborn is the first female general officer in the JA career field is an amazing accomplishment, but said that wasn't the number one reason for the interview. "We wanted to interview General Sanborn because she is so very well respected by JAGs throughout the armed forces," he said. "That's about as credible as it gets."
General Sanborn said she's honored to participate in the documentary.
"I'm very flattered, particularly when I think of the thousands of JAGs in all of the [armed] services who do extraordinary work," General Sanborn said. "Any one of them has a great story to tell. To the degree that I can represent them, I'm delighted. I've had a great career, but so many JAGs do so many wonderful things."
The general said she enjoys talking about the JA career field.
"[The JA career field] is a subject I feel strongly and passionately about," she said. "I'm happy to have the opportunity to talk about it and give this career field some publicity and attention so the folks who watch this show can gain a better understanding of the tremendous work our folks do."
Although General Sanborn did point out that the term "JAG" (an acronym for Judge Advocate General) actually refers to a single person, the senior military attorney in each armed service, she said she's looking forward to watching the documentary and she'll make a point to let all her relatives know when the show airs later this year.