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Commander shares perspective on his multi-roles with legal community

Military staff judge advocates and enlisted legal staff members pause for a photo in front of the 9/11 Memorial during their visit to the 601st Air Operations Center March 27. (Air National Guard photo by Maj. Andrew Scott)

Military staff judge advocates and enlisted legal staff members pause for a photo in front of the 9/11 Memorial during their visit to the 601st Air Operations Center March 27. (Air National Guard photo by Maj. Andrew Scott)

TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- The 1st Air Force (Air Forces Northern) –CONR commander described his legal requirements and challenges as a “tri-hatted” leader to more than 30 military staff judge advocates and enlisted staff during their visit to the 601st Air Operations Center, March 27.

As the keynote speaker for the Air Combat Command-sponsored Advanced Air Operations Law Course, Lt. Gen. R. Scott Williams, provided a first-hand account of his legal requirements after legal professionals received a look at the 601st Air Operations Center. The tour also included stops at the Civil Air Patrol and at the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center within 1st AF.

Williams said first and foremost, the legalities of a particular issue ultimately depend on the “hat” he’s wearing at the time. Then Williams described his three roles as the —1st AF commander, CONR commander, and AFNORTH commander — which are not always clearly distinct from each other.

“Our key mission sets are derived from NORAD-NORTHCOM and we get our resource support from Air Combat Command (ACC), but no matter the mission at hand, I always need my legal counsel right next to me,” Williams said. “Across the board, the relationship you develop with your commander at your duty stations is key to mission success.”

He explained his CONR responsibilities—primarily air defense related — are NORAD-centric so there also binational policies and procedures to take into account.

“Our partnership with Canada is second to none and we are looking forward to helping commemorate its 60-year anniversary in May,” Williams said. “While we do enjoy a solid relationship, we still have to keep an eye on sovereignty issues and take those into account when we are sorting through CONR-related legal issues.”

In his role as the 1st AF commander, he reports to the commander of ACC. That major command is the service component that provides the resources for all three roles. Additionally, the U.S. Civil Air Patrol falls into the 1st AF lane when they fly in an U.S. Air Force Auxiliary role.
As the Air Forces Northern commander his responsibilities include homeland defense, theater security cooperation and Defense Support to Civil Authorities.

“We really had a workout this past hurricane season with our civil support efforts,” the commander recalled. “We conducted operations 24/7 for 97 straight days and often had to step out of our comfort zone. Working closely with my legal team, we had to figure out how to break out of yesterday’s rule set when it came to today’s challenges with regard to supporting relief operations for Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.”

"This was a great opportunity for the attorneys and paralegals in the course to hear directly from an operational commander about how he relies on legal professionals to clarify command authorities, identify legal risk, make recommendations, and ultimately, facilitate operations," said Lt. Col. Afsana Ahmed, 1AF (AFNORTH) -CONR staff judge advocate.