Military law runs in the Feldmeier family

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Julia Goldberg, Staff Writer

With grandfathers, aunts, uncles, and a father all involved in military service, siblings Elizabeth Feldmeier Vieyra ‘04 and Robert Feldmeier ‘97 are continuing a family tradition by serving as officers in the Judge Advocate General Corps (JAGs).
“The mission of the Judge Advocate Generals is to provide good officers and good attorneys who are ready to assist commanders in conducting their operations lawfully,” Feldmeier said. “As a judge advocate, you’re spending 80% of your time ‘lawyering’ and 20% of your time ‘soldiering.’”
However, the importance of military preparation cannot be overstated, Feldmeier said. “You need to do the same things as every other soldier: qualify on your assigned personal weapon, pass the Army Physical Fitness Test, maintain height to weight standards, and complete assignment-appropriate training.” For example, when Feldmeier was in South Korea, he had to participate in exercises to prepare for a potential invasion from the North.
Furthermore, Vierya and Feldmeier both have completed airborne training, Feldmeier said. “If we had to—theoretically, at least—we could jump out of an airplane into a zone of active combat,” he said. “At the end of the day, you, like everyone else, are wearing an Army green uniform, and you need to be competent as a soldier if something were to go wrong.”
Feldmeier’s father served as a JAG, which required him to leave home one weekend a month as well as two weeks during the summer for drills and training. “It was always something that was a part of our lives as children,” Feldmeier said. “Seeing how much the Army meant to my father inspired us.”
Along with her home life, the world that Vieryra grew up in guided her towards a career path in military law, she said. Throughout her high school career, there were ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in her sophomore year, 9/11 occurred. “The military was really in the public sphere, and it seemed like something significant to be a part of,” she said. Vieyra decided to become a JAG after realizing that as a young person, she could be involved with problems on the national stage, she said.
Directly after attending high school, both Vieyra and Feldmeier enrolled in Army Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) programs at Columbia University and Johns Hopkins University, respectively. In ROTC programs, the Army pays for a substantial portion of college tuition in return for a mandatory service requirement upon graduation. ROTC cadets take classes in military science, field training, land navigation, and small unit leadership. During their senior year of college, cadets have the option to defer their commission in order to attend law school with the ultimate goal of working as a JAG.
“I already knew I would be in the Army,” Feldmeier said. “The question was whether I was going straight into the Army or taking a delay with law school.”
Ultimately, both asked for and were granted the deferment: Vieyra attended law school at the University of Pennsylvania, and Feldmeier attended Wake Forest University.
Serving as an active duty JAG from 2013-2017, Vieyra worked in many different legal fields. According to Feldmeier, working in numerous fields was typical. “There is no routine Judge Advocate job.”
Vieyra, who was stationed in South Korea, North Carolina, and Kentucky, first served as a legal assistance attorney, working with soldiers on personal legal issues. She later worked as an administrative law attorney, advising commanders on how to properly adhere to laws from Congress and regulations from the Army. “Essentially, I was helping people who wanted to do the right thing, do the right thing,” Vieyra said.
Throughout her four years, Vieyra grew fond of the Army culture, she said. “There was a comradery to it which is hard to find,” she said. “It is quite hard to get into the military, so everyone who was [there] wanted to be there.”
As a JAG, Feldmeier served as both a prosecutor and a detainee operations attorney. The latter position involved Feldmeier evaluating the cases of Iraqis detained by US Forces and assisting with the Geneva Conventions hearing process to determine whether captured Iraqis were unlawful combatants, ordinary civilians, or petty criminals.
While on active duty, Feldmeier was stationed in Virginia, Maryland, Germany, Iraq, and South Korea, he said.
“You meet people whom you otherwise never would have, and you get a glimpse into the way other Americans live,” he said. “It’s not surprising, because we have a general idea that we live in a diverse nation, but in the army, you really see that diversity. The Army is a reflection of the nation it defends.”
Vieyra and Feldmeier are now reservists, meaning that though they are are not active duty JAGs, they are available for deployment if necessary. Vieyra works as a civilian attorney in a law firm. “It’s a business,” she said. “We represent clients, and of course we consider their interests and we think about our own legal ethics, but at the end of the day, it’s a business, and the point is to make money.”
This is one of the most prominent differences between military and civilian law, since as a JAG, her salary was fixed based on rank, she said.
“I would encourage readers [of The Record] to make what, for a Horace Mann student, is not a typical choice,” Feldmeier said. “Even if you don’t [become a JAG], I’d encourage you to think about service, not only for the opportunity to give back to the country that has given us, as Americans, so much, but also for the opportunities the Army gives you to experience what you otherwise wouldn’t.”