Advocates in Action

By Major Stephen A. Stokes

Members of the 116th Cavalry Brigade Combat Team (CBCT) Brigade Legal Section (BLS), Idaho Army National Guard, deployed to the U.S. Army National Training Center in Fort Irwin, California from May 24, 2019, to June 20, 2019.  The Legal Section was part of a much larger exercise, which saw over 4,000 Soldiers and Airmen and over 2,000 pieces of equipment travel to California for a large-scale, simulated-combat experience.[i]

The 116th CBCT Brigade Legal Section in action. From left to right: CPT Nate Peterson, Operational Law Attorney, CPT Mike Winchester, Trial Counsel, MAJ Steve Stokes, Brigade Judge Advocate, 1LT Anil Kimball, Chief of Administrative Law, and SGT Kenneth Kalim, Paralegal Soldier. Not Pictured, SSG Peter Scheri, Brigade Paralegal NCOIC. Photo Credit: 1LT Anil Kimball.

The rotation at the National Training Center was a culminating training event for the 116th CBCT as it prepares for deployment in the spring of 2020.  This article will briefly describe the National Training Center (NTC), the Brigade Legal Section’s composition and role in a training exercise like NTC, and what is next for the legal section.

The National Training Center, which has an area roughly the size of Rhode Island, is the U.S. Army’s premier training center.  NTC rotations “incorporate a complex scenario design laden with social, ethical, and moral dilemmas; the goal of which is to develop leaders while exposing them to multifaceted problems.  Units training at NTC today face a complex hybrid threat.  Units must face a near-peer opposing force, while taking on an insurgent force.”[ii]

The National Training Center allows units to “train under the most war-like conditions available.”[iii]  It was under these conditions that the 116th CBCT honed its craft.

The BLS consisted of Major Steve Stokes, Brigade Judge Advocate, Captain Michael Winchester, Trial Counsel, Captain Nate Peterson, Operational Law Attorney, First Lieutenant Anil Kimball, Chief of Administrative Law, Staff Sergeant Peter Scheri, Paralegal NCOIC, and Sergeant Kenneth Kalim, Paralegal Soldier.  In addition, each of the nine battalions making up the 116th CBCT deployed with a Paralegal Specialist.

The legal team is of vital importance to a commander in the field.  War plans, initiatives, and decisions can have far-reaching strategic and policy implications in complex operational environments.[iv]  The Brigade Legal Section honed its skills by advising on a wide array of legal issues including the law of  armed conflict, rules of engagement, lethal and nonlethal targeting, treatment of detainees and noncombatants, fiscal law, foreign claims, contingency contracting, international rule of law, the conduct of military investigations, and military justice.[v]  Members of the BLS also served as staff officers on boards, centers, cells, and working groups, where they fully participated in the military planning process.[vi]

The 116th CBCT BLS reflect the diversity of experience inherent in the National Guard; More than two-thirds of the Soldiers and Airmen in the Idaho National Guard are part-time citizen-soldiers.  These Soldiers and Airmen have the triple burden of excelling in their civilian careers, serving their State and Nation, and upholding their commitments to their families.

The 116th BLS exemplifies this can-do spirit: CPT Nate Peterson is a busy and successful private practitioner in Boise; CPT Mike Winchester is a deputy prosecuting attorney serving the people of Jefferson County; 1LT Anil Kimball recently passed the Idaho bar examination and is beginning his civilian career after completing his military education, and SSG Peter Scheri is an electrician in Meridian.

CPT Mike Winchester conducts field research in the Manual for Courts-Martial on May 30, 2019 at the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, California. Photo credit: Cpl. Alisha Grezlik, 115th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.

Through the crucible of the 2019 NTC rotation, the BLS came together as a team, learned best practices from the best legal trainers in the U.S. Army, and gained new Soldier skills and determination that the members will bring home to their civilian employers and communities.

Next spring, the 116th CBCT will participate in an exercise called Defender 2020, which will include a month-long deployment to Germany.[vii]  One purpose of Defender 2020 is to show that an armored brigade combat team can deploy from the United States, draw equipment, and rapidly build combat forces in Europe.[viii]  During the exercise, the brigade will also conduct training in a high-intensity European scenario fight.[ix]  The BLS will be a vital part of this deployment, ensuring that the 116th CBCT follows the rule of law and executes its mission in a legal and ethical manner.

“Stokes Photo 1” Cutline – The 116th CBCT Brigade Legal Section in action.  From left to right: CPT Nate Peterson, Operational Law Attorney, CPT Mike Winchester, Trial Counsel, MAJ Steve Stokes, Brigade Judge Advocate, 1LT Anil Kimball, Chief of Administrative Law, and SGT Kenneth Kalim, Paralegal Soldier.  Not Pictured, SSG Peter Scheri, Brigade Paralegal NCOIC.  Photo Credit: 1LT Anil Kimball.

Major Stephen A. Stokes is the full-time Staff Judge Advocate, Idaho National Guard. After clerking, he worked in private practice in Pocatello from 2006 until 2014, when he joined the Idaho National Guard full-time. Stokes was commissioned as a Judge Advocate in 2009 and deployed to Iraq in 2010-2011 with the 116th Cavalry Brigade Combat Team. He has served in a wide variety of local and state bar activities. He is a 2014 graduate of the Idaho Academy of Leadership for Lawyers. Currently, he is President of the Fourth District Bar Association and immediate Past-Chair of the Idaho Military Legal Alliance.

[i] Steve Dent, Idaho National Guard finishes off a Successful NTC Rotation at Fort Irwin, KIVI Boise, (last visited on September 3, 2019).


[iii] Lt. Col. Chris Borders, 116th Soldiers Return Home after Month-Long Exercise, Clearwater Tribune, (last visited September 3, 2019) (“Borders Article”).

[iv] U.S. Army Field Manual 1-04, Legal Support to the Operational Force, Paragraph 1-1.

[v] Id.

[vi] Id.

[vii] Borders Article.

[viii] Id.

[ix] Id.