I thought I would bring up something that caught my attention while I was deployed. Many readers are probably familiar with AFN–American Forces Network, formerly known as Armed Forces Network. AFN provides commercial American television programming to service members stationed all over the world. During commercial breaks, AFN runs military-oriented public service spots instead of commercials. They usually deal with subjects such as operational security or drug abuse prevention. A surprising number of them, however, deal with legal matters. Viewers considering changing their state of legal residence, for example, are cautioned to visit their legal office for all the pros and cons before making any rash decisions. If you’re thinking about getting a power of attorney, check with the legal office to decide whether you really want to grant general power of attorney. The spots have pretty high production values. They feature professional actors and clever scenarios to make their points.

One spot in particular made me do a double take. A woman dressed in a business suit that claimed to have been both a judge advocate and a civilian lawyer delivers a message favorably comparing an accused’s rights at a court-martial to a defendant’s rights at a civilian trial. One comparison in particular made me do a double take. The speaker said that a military accused has a superior right to a trial by his or her peers at a court-martial compared to a civilian trial. There’s no explanation for that conclusion, it’s just one item in a short list of areas in which courts-martial are favorably compared to civilian trials. If by peers the speaker means superiors she might be on to something. Otherwise, I don’t think it’s a defensible statement. I’m not even aware that Article 25 is calculated to produce a panel of the accused’s peers; for better or worse that’s one of the most distinctive things about a court-martial.

Who’s responsible for the spot, anyway? Someone must have thought it necessary to market the UCMJ to the service members that are subject to it. Is there some larger concern for the UCMJ’s image in the service that I’m not aware of? Was there JAG input into the spot? Into the script?

I only saw the spot one or two times. Maybe an overseas reader can fill in a little more. And if anyone knows what the producers of the spot were trying to accomplish, I’d like to know.

8 Responses to “Marketing Article 25”

  1. John O'Connor says:

    Obviously, I haven’t seen teh commercials, but that’s an interesting theory that you have a greater right to a trial by your peers in the forum where there is no right to a trial by your peers than in the forum where there is a right to trial by your peers. George Orwell would be proud.

    But then, if you define “peers” as fellow enlisted soldiers, what’s the chance your civilian court jury has 1/3 enlisted personnel on it?

  2. Gene Fidell says:

    I saw a lot of AFN legal spots earlier this year when I was in Korea to defend a GCM at Osan AB. They should be examined closely from the point of view of their potential effect on members.

  3. Marcus Fulton says:

    There was one with a guy in a lab coat, who was supposedly a chemist at a drug lab. His message was that the lab doesn’t make mistakes, and if you think that you’re going to beat a drug rap by claiming the test is wrong, it’s not going to work. Is that the one you were thinking of?

  4. John O'Connor says:

    Funny, Marcus, that’s exactly the type of thing I was thinking of when I considered the command influence issues that could arise from such commercials. I’m eagerly awaiting the commercials dealing with important military justice issues as “if they made it to trial, they must have done it,” “when you’re a member, there’s probably a confession that the judge won’t let you hear,” and “your CO knows he’s guilty, so he’ll think you’re an idiot if you acquit this guy.”

  5. Christopher Mathews says:

    In a world where even the most banal commander’s disciplinary policy letters (Don’t do drugs or you’ll get caught!) are routinely the subject of individual voir dire and UCI motions, I suspect any threat from AFN will be dealt with appropriately.

    Besides, if you’ve been stationed overseas, you know that the ads are more a source of mirth and derision than they are command influence, unlawful or otherwise.

  6. No Man says:

    While I think former Judge Mathews is mostly correct, something like whether the drug lab make mistakes is a rather specific and difficult to contradict. How does a member keep that out of their head when the only counter evidence is GMC or something else non-scientific? If memory serves me correctly there were some labs that have had problems, including the Navy lab in the mid-1990s, when allegations prompted the Surgeon General to look into quality control problems at the lab, and again at the Air Force lab in the last decade. Whether those labs’ problems resulted in false positives, no one may ever really know. But, proving innocence isn’t the question, it is meeting the BaRD standard. Does the commercial make it that much easier for the gov’t to meet that standard in urinalysis cases? Is that a problem?

  7. Jason Grover says:

    Judge Mathews has it right, having been living with AFN spots for over a year I can affirmatively say they are seen much more as a source of mirth than command influence. But I disagree with Marcus’s characterization of “high production value” with “professional actors.” Perhaps they save the quality stuff for the folks in harm’s way. In Europe, an average seventh grade A/V club could compete favorably on the production of most spots.

    The same drug commercial says if you do drugs, you will get discharged.

    The worst part of the spots is they all end with “if you have any questions see your legal office.” I live in dread of some random Sailor coming to me with a question from an AFN spot. . . .

  8. Marcus Fulton says:


    Not high production value? Let’s see you train a cat to hack into a computer system like the one on “Squeakers, the Operational Security Mouse.”