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News | June 26, 2020

At the Tip of the Spear in the Horn of Africa

By Navy JAG Corps Public Affairs

Capt. Christopher Greer – a seasoned judge advocate with extensive international and national security law experience – currently serves as the staff judge advocate for Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA). He calls his post at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti (CLDJ) – the only enduring U.S. military location on the African continent – one of his most challenging and rewarding assignments. He, alongside a top-notch team of legal professionals, is making a lasting mark in a critically important area of responsibility.

Greer and his team advise the CJTF-HOA Commanding General, his team of directors, and subordinate commanders on all areas of law and policy including operational, fiscal, international, administrative, and military justice. Their work requires close coordination with command leadership on all issues related to law and policy.

“Our office is currently comprised of Navy and Air Force attorneys and legalmen, although the command has members of all the services,” said Greer. “Partnerships and collaboration are built by showing respect to the customs and courtesies of your sister services while also leaving some room for good natured ribbing – there is a lot of that.”

Greer is a native of Wilmington, Del. He received his juris doctorate degree from George Mason University School of Law in May 2000 and was admitted to the New Jersey Bar in November 2000. He also holds a master of laws degree from the Judge Advocate General's School of the Army, where he specialized in international and operational law.

Greer received his commission in 1999 from the JAG Corps student program. His first assignment as a judge advocate sent him to Commander, Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet, where he served as an assistant force judge advocate. From there, Greer moved up through the ranks, taking roles overseas and excelling in his various assignments. He reported to his current post in June 2019.

"During my time as the staff judge advocate, I will have had 14 different lawyers and Legalmen, who will have rotated through the office,” said Greer. “We are a cohesive, high morale unit that’s meeting the mission in a complex operating environment.”

One of CJTF-HOA's lines of effort is to maintain influence in the Combined Joint Operating Area (CJOA). This is accomplished, in part, through participation in leader engagements and training events throughout the 12-country CJOA.

In April, Greer played a crucial role in the Accountability Colloquium, a collaborative forum for African legal professionals and commanders to discuss issues, exchange information, and share lessons learned on important topics related to the conducting military operations subject to the rule of law in Africa. The theme of this year’s Colloquium was "Solutions to Military Operational Challenges in Africa."

“I had been trying to meet with the Legal Advisor for the Djiboutian Ministry of Defense – which is about 5 miles from where I work – ever since I arrived here last June and was finally able to meet him in South Africa at the Colloquium,” said Greer. “We are looking forward to continuing to build that relationship with Djibouti.”

During a presentation at the event, Greer emphasized that successful military legal advisors possess "a level of humility, curiosity for military operations, and understanding the needs of the commander."

Greer explained to attendees that military advisors have to learn the operator's perspective to provide relevant advice. He advised them to “get in the room,” so the command can recognize the value of having a legal advisor on the team. He noted that legal counselors provide new and useful perspective, and can sometimes express what other staff members cannot say.

The Accountability Colloquium is just one of many important events that Greer and his team have attended throughout the CJOA, sharing important messages and forging strategic alliances.

“During my deployment here members of our legal team have been able to participate in Defense Institute of International Legal Studies trips to Somalia, Uganda, Kenya, Djibouti, and Benin,” said Greer. “These were fantastic opportunities to establish relationships and provide important training. I was also able to attend a U.N. working group on child soldiers in Mogadishu, Somalia with representatives from the Somali government, the U.N., EU, and various NGOs.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a number of unforeseen challenges for Greer’s team, including interruptions to daily business operations and travel. Recently, a Navy Reserve member of Greer’s team was recognized for her work in support of CLDJ’s COVID-19 response.

“Chief Legalman Joanna Patterson has been doing a great job ever since she arrived in October,” said Greer. “I am so thankful she was sent our way. She has made great contributions to our team, and has been especially integral to our work related to the pandemic.”

In mid-March, the CLDJ commanding officer decided to begin limiting the access of local contractors to the installation in order to reduce the potential for the spread of COVID-19 on CLDJ. This resulted in the closing of the Navy Exchange (NEX) and further reduction of many services on base. Patterson used her extensive civilian retail experience and stepped up and organized a volunteer effort of military personnel across all services to ensure that the NEX could be reopened, greatly enhancing the morale on base.

Patterson also is responsible for organizing the galley watch bill which is required to ensure that social distancing measures are enforced during meal times. Additionally, when CLDJ's chief Legalman needed to re-deploy unexpectedly, Patterson volunteered to assist with notaries, powers of attorney, and military justice issues.

In recognition of Patterson's contributions, Maj. Gen. Mike Turello, the CJTF-HOA commanding general, presented her with his coin during a socially distant ceremony in May.

“This can be a tough place deploy although the amenities are much better that those on a ship, at least before COVID precautions shut everything down,” said Greer. “But like most things in life, it all comes down to relationships—even when it’s 115 degrees outside.”

“I’m very fortunate to work alongside such a wonderful team.”

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