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Icing on the Cake

Outgoing JAG, Rear Adm. Don Guter, and current JAG, Rear Adm. Michael Lohr, LLM ’84, celebrate their transition.

Credit: U.S. Navy photo by PHC Delores Parlato,USN

When your job has the same name as a popular television show, you’re bound to attract attention. And if you love your work, like Navy Judge Advocate General Rear Adm. Michael Lohr, LLM ’84, does, such interest is welcome—especially at this culmination of his lifetime of legal service. His path to the present was no happenstance. “I had two passions when I was a young man,” Lohr says. “One was flying and the other was the law.”

Born here in Washington at Walter Reed Army Medical Center while his father served during the Korean War, Lohr grew up reading law novels and worked summers at the state attorney’s office for a family friend in Upper Marlboro, Md.

“I first approached my Navy recruiter about being a pilot, but when I scored well on the LSAT, I went back to the recruiter and asked if I could change to the JAG Corps.” In the post-Vietnam 1970s, the Navy did not need many more aviators.

He started working for the Navy while in law school at the University of Maryland. It was a different Navy then, he says—one in which criminal defense cases were much greater in number. “Today’s Navy is much more of a career-focused Navy. We see far fewer cases. As the forces are all volunteer and increasingly married with children, there is a lot more for a person to lose if there is a husband or wife or there are children to consider.”

These days, the Navy is seeing more complex cases, such as computer-related crime and increasing amounts of international work.

Fortunately for Lohr, he switched his LLM concentration at his mentor’s suggestion. “During my carrier tour I was up on the bridge one night with the skipper, Admiral Jerry Johnson. The message had come in that I was selected for post-graduate school and selected for labor law, my first choice. Johnson called me up and said, ‘Mike why would you want to go into labor law? What are your other options?’ I mentioned international and he said, ‘That’s the one you need to go for.”

Lohr’s high-profile work began in the late ’80s when he served as counsel for the investigation that followed the shooting of an Iranian passenger jet by the USS Vincennes in 1988. At the time, he was serving as an international law attorney to the commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor and as a staff judge advocate to the commander of the U.S. Naval Forces, assigned to the Central Command.

After the Gulf War, he spent much of the ’90s working for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the Pentagon. The work was a perfect match for his international expertise. The outcome of specializing in international law is that an attorney will usually deal less with cases and more with operational and international law issues, he says. Assignments ranged from dealing with policies relating to the migration of Haitians and Cubans to Gauntanamo Bay, to reviewing the legal basis for U.S. actions in Kosovo, to dealing with the humanitarian relief aspects of natural or other disasters in Africa. He was part of the team in the Pentagon that worked to withdraw U.S. forces from Somalia, recently documented in the movie, “Black Hawk Down.” And he was a Pentagon legal adviser for the initial responses to suspected bin Laden terrorism, following the U.S. embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.

And then there was, and still is, Iraq. The Gulf War, no-fly zone issues, and the continuing weapons inspections sagas have kept Iraq and the relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions in the forefront of legal discussions for much of Lohr’s career.

It was in 2000 that he became the deputy JAG, a position in which he served until his appointment to JAG this past June. Both jobs call for more of a leadership role, and Lohr has been managing a staff that has been working on such efforts as the investigations of the bombing of the USS Cole, the USS Greenville submarine surfacing incident with the Japanese vessel, and the downing of an EP3 aircraft in China and subsequent detention of the U.S. crew there last year.

“As JAG, I have different responsibilities than as deputy,” he says. The position is one he bears with pride and gratitude, after being selected for the two-year post by a five-member, selection board.

“I’m no longer the person who’s responsible for answering most of the questions that most Navy lawyers in the field get asked. So the management side of the Navy is a very different aspect for me. But in terms of the big picture, my community is very small. The JAG Corps is 740 lawyers out of a Navy of nearly 400,000 people.”

Is the job really like the television show? Yes and no, he says. “In terms of the travel, it certainly is. I spent six years at sea, and my family and I have lost track of how many countries I’ve been to—it’s more than 50. But the great part about the job is that you feel like you’re part of a larger process. Service is what motivates you, and adventure, the interesting legal issues, and the military lifestyle. It’s really a terrific way to go.”
—Heather O. Milke

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