Thanks for checking in!

I started this blog to keep in touch with my family and friends during my time attending Commissioned Officer Training (COT) and the Judge Advocate Staff Officer Course (JASOC) at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama. Now I'm done with training and back in the "real" world, but I'll keep updating this blog with any interesting developments from my JAG career.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Surviving JASOCalypse 2011

I'm now in the last few days of JASOC and I have to acknowledge my epic failure to keep this blog updated over the past seven weeks. Here is what happened in a nutshell since our trip to Florida in week 2: We finished our civil law section, which I really enjoyed (especially the administrative discharge topic). We then went on to military justice, which was really interesting, given the nuanced differences between military and civilian criminal systems. The highlights of military justice were the two mock courts-martial, which I can't say too much about because we we all sworn to secrecy so that future JASOC classes aren't tipped off. We then moved on to operations and international law (affectionately called OIL law), which is at the law that we apply in a deployed environment, including the law of armed conflict and the rules of engagement. That part of the course was fascinating because it really is the one area where JAGs do legal work that nobody else does. We took our OIL test this morning, so we are pretty much done with the class from a substantive standpoint. My next post will likely have to do with our dining-out, graduation, and our trip back to California (which all of us - Susan and Joaquin especially) are really looking forward to. These nine weeks have felt like a year.

So that's the quick update. Now for the meaty part. The highlight (or lowlight) of this past seven-week period was our our class trip to DC, which started with an earthquake and ended with a hurricane, prompting us to coin the term "JASOCalypse 2011" to refer to our class.

The earthquake didn't really faze us because we were in Atlanta on a stopover (but Susan and Joaquin got to experience it; who would have guessed Joaquin's first earthquake would be in DC?). But we had a few drinks while watching the news at the Atlanta airport and laughed at the pictures of the destruction that later flooded the Internet, like this:

Despite this ominous warning from Mother Nature, we stayed the course and landed in DC on a Tuesday night. The next few days we spent seeing some of the sights, getting sworn in to military appellate courts, and sitting through briefings from JAG corps leadership, including Lieutenant General Richard Harding, The Judge Advocate General of the Air Force (TJAG).

This is me and some of my buddies from class near the front steps of the Supreme Court. The Capitol is behind us.

On the steps of the Supreme Court. I should have fixed my right pant leg.

We stopped by the Air Force Memorial, the walls of which are engraved with famous quotations about the importance of air power. This one from Billy Mitchell is one of my favorites.

Ten-foot tall permanent honor guard at the Air Force memorial.

We toured the Capitol building, which I had never done before. One thing I loved was the statues; there are 100 in the building - two from each state. DC just got the right to put in two of it's own, and there is a debate going on about who it's two representatives should be. One of California's statues is this one of Ronald Reagan. The coolest thing about this is that there are crushed bits of the Berlin Wall in the base. California's other native son represented at the Capitol is Father Junipero Serra, considered by many to be the "father" of our state.

This is a small memorial at the Capitol bearing the names of the passengers and crew of United 93, the plane that was headed for the Capitol on September 11 until the patriots inside, already aware of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, overwhelmed the terrorists in control of the plane and forced them to take the plane down in a Pennsylvania field.

We saw a lot of other cool things in our time in DC; I'll try to post more pictures later. As for that hurricane, the story goes like this:

We were at the Pentagon all day on Friday, and about noon we were told that our instructors were working to get all 50+ of us on a flight out that night because Hurricane Irene was working it's way up the coast and the weather in DC would be at it's worst at around 5:00 pm on Saturday (and our flight was scheduled for 4:00 pm). When we all checked the weather during a break we saw this:

But by the end of the day, it became clear that we wouldn't be leaving DC early. Finding 50+ seats on short notice proved to be an impossible task. So we all settled in for the long haul, thinking that there was no way our plane would take off. Well, all of us except for two people in class. By the end of the night on Friday we heard of thousands of flights being cancelled up and down the coast, and most of us figured that it was just a matter of time before we got the call saying we'd be stuck in DC until Monday. But by late morning on Saturday, our flight was still on schedule, so we packed up all our stuff and headed for the airport. I said goodbye to Susan and Joaquin, who were with me in DC all week, and who were staying in DC with friends to ride out the storm. It was raining pretty fiercely as we left for the airport.

Reagan International was eerily deserted. Nobody was checking in for flights, shops were closed, restaurants were in the process of closing down. Not only were thousands of flights cancelled, but the airport itself was shutting down at 6 pm. Over the PA system we heard that all flights after 5 pm were grounded. Our flight was scheduled to leave at 4:40. Those of us convinced we'd end up staying in DC got some food and settled in at the lone bar still open to wait for the announcement that our flight was cancelled.

At about 4:15 I checked this Tagus of our flight and saw that it was now delayed 14 minutes - from 4:40 to 4:54. We would be beating the 5:00 deadline by 6 minutes. Someone asked a gate attendant why we were delayed and she was told that the plane reported some mechanical issues. After a few beers and that news, most of us were feeling pretty confident that we'd be stuck in DC. But the few holdouts were still taking bets that we would be taking off.

Even as boarded the plane, I was thinking we would have to deplane. There was no way we would take off. Through the tiny airplane windows you could see the rain coming down in waves, driven by fierce gusts of wind that slammed the water droplets into the ground. The airplane's shell seemed like little protection against this onslaught. Nervous smiles, raised eyebrows and incredulous looks passed from one person to the other like a contagious yawn. My neighbor passed out airplane-size bottles of vodka that she had thoughtfully stocked up on.

The pilot's voice cut through the tension. "Thanks for joining us, ladies and gentlemen. We know there's some weather out there but we'll be up and out of it in about ten to fifteen minutes. Just sit tight." Those ten to fifteen minutes felt like hours as the plane was buffeted back and forth by the wind. I was thankful that Susan wasn't on the plane, because she clamps down on my hand or arm with an iron grip and squeezes like she's having a contraction when there's just a little bit of turbulence. She would have broken something, no doubt. But God bless that pilot, we made it up and out, and as soon as we got above the clouds, it was like the hurricane never even existed. We had survived the JASOCalypse.

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