Podcast: Brig. Gen. Gail Crawford on international & operational law challenges, leadership, and much more!

I was especially pleased to welcome Brig. Gen. Gail Crawford, the Air Force’s Director of Operations and International Law, as a speaker for our 27th Annual National Security Law Conference this year.  Why?  I was lucky enough to have then Major Crawford as my executive officer from 2002-2004 while I was serving as the Air Combat Command staff judge advocate.  I could not have been more thrilled to see how such a super-talented and deserving person advanced through the ranks to become a senior Air Force leader!  

Give her current position, I asked her to give us some remarks on the Contemporary Challenges in International and Operations Law” and you can now watch (or listen to) her talk here).  I thoroughly enjoyed her presentation and although I believed I already knew a lot on this topic, I nevertheless learned a great deal.

Among other things, she told us that the newly-created Space Force did not have its own judge advocates (military lawyers called “JAGs”), but rather (sensibly in my opinion) uses the Air Force JAG Corps for legal support.  She then discussed various issues in the cyber realm, including the amazing number of challenges occasioned by “wearable technology” and its ability to collect information:

[W]earable technology is certainly presenting some challenges for us that we’ll have to work through going forward.

One of the questions we’re looking at is, when does collection of vital signs cross over into biometric data collection? In other words, when have we gone beyond getting a better resting heart rate to being able to recognize an individual based on measurable anatomical, physiological, or behavioral characteristics?

We are looking at the law and policy and looking at protections for PII, these issues of personally identifiable information. Certainly some HIPAA issues are raised, Privacy Act considerations, like how we establish a system of records if we’re collecting information.

And what about the criminal context? Are we creating Fifth Amendment issues, or, in the services, Article 31 issues? Can we use data that’s being collected by these devices in court?

You’ve probably heard some issues about wearable tech maybe potentially compromising possible military operation locations. And so those are some of the issues that we are definitely facing in the cyber space.

She also talked about how the Air Force (and its JAG Corps) are changing to be prepared to fight in an environment in which air superiority–which for decades U.S. forces could assume–is no longer a given:

We believe that those days [of assured air superiority] are fleeting, and so we are changing as an Air Force the way we organize, the way we train, the way we present forces for battle.

Our main operating bases are going to have to have the ability to disperse and disaggregate into forward operating bases. And so what you see on that right side of that slide is you see a main operating base that will serve as a hub.

And then you’ll see the forward operating bases that we call spokes and contingency locations, where we will have to be able to move out to those locations for resiliency, for continuity of operations. 

And so this is going to create some challenges for us because we’re not necessarily trained or equipped to support this type of Air Force. But this is what we’re going to have to do because this creates a more unpredictable, a more resilient force, and it will also present the adversary with multiple dilemmas. We call this change agile combat employment.

And as the war fighter is training and equipping and organizing to disaggregate and disperse, it’s caused us as judge advocates to take a look at how we train and how we establish what General Dunlap used to call those expeditionary skills, in other words, what it is that you’re going to need when you are in a forward deployed location.

And what I will tell you is one of the things that we are having to go back to, sir, that you experienced way back in the early ’90s is that we’re going to have to be able to do this disaggregation in a situation that’s going to be degraded comms, right? We’re not going to necessarily have reachback.

And so our JAGs are going to be more junior, they’re going to have to be out there sooner, and they’re going to have to have everything they need to be there because they may not have the ability to reach back to more senior leaders like myself to ask a question. More importantly, our JAGs might not be there at all. And so we are looking at the way we’re training ourselves and our war fighters to better prepare for the next fight.

Another one of the especially interesting things she talked about was environmental law.  Since at least the 1970s the Air Force has had environmental lawyers, but that contingent has grown, Gen. Crawford advises, to “hundreds.”  Most interesting is how the discipline–which once was organizationally centered in the civil law division–is now found in her operations law directorate.  She explained:

[O]ne of the things that the Air Force has done that’s different from the other services is we have pulled environmental law into the operations law domain because it is really an acknowledgment of the impact that environmental law has on the strategic framework of how we do our practice of operations.

Environmental law impacts everything from where we can train our pilots, where we can put our air frames, our weapons systems, even how are we going to keep the lights on to make sure that we have energy and utilities for our bases. And so environmental law has definitely become a really, really important portfolio for how we fight our nation’s wars, how we train, how we organize, how we equip. And so we have taken a step towards operationalizing that so that our war fighters are talking to our environmental lawyers on the front end.

If they’re thinking about introducing a new weapons system, if we’re going to buy more aircraft, we’re going to train different airframes in different places, we’ve got those environmental lawyers on the front end of that conversation so that when we are ready to move to operational capability, we don’t have these snags that might delay how we accomplish our mission. And we have seen some amazing results in our ability to clear the way for our senior leaders to continue the path of modernizing our Air Force and accelerating change in how we do business.

Gail also generously shared details about her personal journey from enlisted person to brigadier general.  Further, she gave us some very interesting thoughts as to what she looks for in young lawyers (and, especially, JAGs):

I think number one is probably that thirst for knowledge, that pursuit of wanting to be your best self, to pursue excellence and be the best that you can be, regardless of what your job is. My parents taught me that if you’re a broom sweeper, your goal in life should to be the best broom sweeper you can be. And so number one, I certainly look for that effort and that pursuit of excellence to be the best that you can be. And so with that comes some hard work, right? You’ve got to be willing to put the hours in, as General Dunlap would say, mastering your craft.

Number three, I would say, there’s no substitute for a great attitude. I have been in some situations where the work was hard, or the work was easy. The challenges we faced were immense, or they were not. And the one thing that I will tell you that I always wanted to make sure I saw in my young folks that was most helpful is if they have a great attitude about it, if you look at having a growth mindset– I don’t how to do this yet, but I will learn how to do it– I think that growth mindset, that great attitude is important.

And, finally, folks that have gone to law school already– yeah, we know you’re smart, right? And so I think humility, being able to have a conversation with another human being and relate to them on a human level is going to be something that gets us a lot further. You can be a straight-A student. You can be the best at what you– in your area of your practice of law. But what I want to know is, can I turn you loose on a commander, right? Will I turn you loose to advise a client?

And so those are just some leadership thoughts. I do want to take a moment to make a shameless plug for our way of life. The Air Force JAG Corps has some great opportunities to serve our nation and be a part of something that’s bigger than yourself and join a proud institution, see the world.

Lots of wisdom there from a truly great leader!  Be sure to watch (or listen to) her full talk here). 

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