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Trial procedures are nothing to mock

Legal

Local Okinawans look over the script for the mock trial as part of the Military Justice Symposium June 29, 2018 at Kadena Air Base, Japan. The mock trial was a part of the Military Justice Symposium, in which members from all branches of the U.S. military and local Okinawan legal members converged on Kadena Air Base for a knowledge exchange. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Greg Erwin)

Legal

Akira Nonobe, translator for the U.S. Navy, explains what Lt. Col. Steven Neill, U.S. Army military judge, is saying to the courtroom June 29, 2018 at Kadena Air Base, Japan. The mock trial was a part of the Military Justice Symposium, in which members from all branches of the U.S. military and local Okinawan legal members converged on Kadena Air Base for a knowledge exchange. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Greg Erwin)

Legal

Lt. Col. Steven Neill, U.S. Army military judge, explains the Uniform Code of Military Justice to the local Okinawans in the courtroom June 29, 2018 at Kadena Air Base, Japan. The mock trial was a part of the Military Justice Symposium, in which members from all branches of the U.S. military and local Okinawan legal members converged on Kadena Air Base for a knowledge exchange. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Greg Erwin)

KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- While the Uniform Code of Military Justice may be the same across the services, each branch still has their own quirks when it comes to serving justice. All four branches on island, as well as their Japanese counterparts came together June 29, 2018, at Kadena Air Base, Japan, to participate in a mock trial.

The day started with an introduction to military justice and moved on to investigations, commander’s discretion non-judicial punishment, and ended with the mock trial.

“All four services on the island took part in one way or another, whether it was a briefing or roles in the mock trial – so it was truly a joint effort,” said Capt. Christopher Ginn, 18th Wing judge advocate prosecutor and chief of NJP.

Locals were also heavily involved throughout the day. Members from the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force, investigators from the Okinawa prefecture, prosecutors from the Naha courthouse and members from the Okinawa narcotics control office all participated in one way or another.

Although the sister services may have reaped many benefits from this event, the goal was to work closer with their Japanese partners, explained Lt. Col. Chuck Neill, Army staff judge advocate.

“The main purpose was to share with our Japanese partners how we conduct our military justice system,” he said. “I think it’s helpful for them to see a mock trial to understand the kind of scrutiny that defendants will receive … That witnesses will receive. I think it’s also helpful to show our Japanese partners how seriously we take misconduct committed by military personnel on the island.”

Being on island, often means working closely with locals – when it comes to legal matters, there’s no room for error.

“We work with them on a pretty regular basis,” Neill said. “We’ve had a couple of cases where there’s been misconduct off an installation and the Japanese police are the first ones to respond and we’ve been able to rely very well on the fidelity and the integrity of their investigations.”

Although there are high expectations for the working relationship between the military and the locals, the services seem to have just as much to prove to the locals.

“I think to a certain extent U.S. forces in Japan are seen as one unit – especially if we’re in the news – so it’s important for that purpose, to show we do work together and we are one unit, especially when it comes to UCMJ,” Neill said.

Despite the constant banter between sister services, Lt. Rachael Baker, Navy fleet activities Okinawa staff judge advocate, feels they really are one team.

“I think it’s important not only for us to be working with our Japanese partners but also as a purple force because that’s what Okinawa is all about,” she said. “So I wanted to highlight that – I wanted to show that we really are a joint legal force on this island.”

For Baker, the day was both personally and professionally satisfying.

“Seeing our Japanese counterparts really enjoying it and walking away from it happy that they came is very personally rewarding … Professionally, I think it’s a great experience to get to know your colleagues on island even better … To get those relationships and build them with our Japanese counterparts,” Baker said. “There were four different offices here that we had relationships with previously, but I think we strengthened them today.”

While being overseas can pose certain challenges, the legal teams here see unique working experience as a great opportunity to learn more and build relationships.

“Getting a glimpse into each other’s worlds is never a bad thing,” Ginn expressed. “Something like this would not happen if you’re stationed stateside – it’s a fact – this is international relations, this is international law and it’s something that’s really cool to be a part of.