Earlier this year, Lt. Cmdr. Tom Eaton – a JAG community member currently serving as staff judge advocate at Carrier Strike Group FIFTEEN – was selected as a recipient of the prestigious Leo Gross Prize in International Law.
Originally from Southern California, Eaton received a Bachelor of Arts in history from Point Loma University in 2004, a Juris Doctor from the Thomas Jefferson School of Law in 2008, and a Master of Arts in defense and strategic studies from the Naval War College in 2016. He is a member of the California state bar. In May, Eaton completed a Master of Laws (LLM) in international law from The Fletcher School, the graduate school of international affairs at Tufts University in Medford, Mass.
Each year, eight professors who comprise the international law faculty at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy deliberate to select a student who has excelled in law courses at Fletcher. Eaton was selected by the law faculty as recipient of the Leo Gross Prize.
“I was surprised that I was selected. There were so many exceptional students at Fletcher, and I felt honored to have been chosen. The extraordinary and diverse students and faculty contributed to my learning and personal growth in immeasurable ways. I hope to live up to honor and namesake of the award through public service and stewardship,” Eaton said.
Leo Gross was a long-time faculty member at Fletcher, and one of the draftsmen of the United Nations Charter. A refugee from Nazi Germany, Gross was a leading international lawyer in the late 20th century.
“Tom was an all-around excellent student. He was a leader in his class, demonstrating great maturity and judgment. He was kind enough to host his fellow LLM students for Thanksgiving dinner in the fall, but what really stood out was his intellectual capability,” said Professor Joel Trachtman, who teaches international law and serves as executive director of Fletcher’s LLM program. “One leading faculty member, who has often lectured at the Naval War College, said that he thought of Tom as more of a colleague than a student. On this basis, the law faculty unanimously selected Tom as the recipient of the prize this year. The prize was awarded at graduation in May.”
"Fletcher has had excellent experience with Navy judge advocate officers as students,” Trachtman added. “They are consistently leaders in their class, with a great work ethic and positive attitude. They take enthusiastic advantage of Fletcher’s inter-disciplinary opportunities and often mentor younger LLM students.”
Additionally, Eaton helped modify Fletcher’s longstanding language proficiency requirement for admission. An excerpt from the newly changed policy reads as follows: “This change in policy reflects the fluid and diverse nature of career paths that Fletcher students and alumni pursue and which the job market demands. The new policy empowers students to evaluate whether demonstrating proficiency in a language other than English will be beneficial to their course of study and in their chosen careers. For many, that will still mean that demonstrating proficiency in a second language adds a necessary tool to their toolkit. Others may choose to include a foreign language into their studies for the added value that having linguistic and cultural competency shows to future employers. These are choices of which we are fully supportive and the School will continue to offer the opportunity to demonstrate these competencies.”
While offering an excellent legal education, Eaton described Fletcher as fundamentally a school of diplomacy, fostering bigger picture analysis, tools, and thinking as to how to effect change. “I found the foreign relations focus uniquely helpful for the work we do as judge advocates, advising on U.S. policy, not solely law,” Eaton said.
“The diversity of the student body – I was the only U.S. attorney – gave me access to perspectives and experiences that strengthened and sharpened my learning during the program,” said Eaton. “The small class sizes, sometimes only 3 students, allowed me to build personal relationships with the faculty as well as other students that I will continue to rely on for
mentorship and advice.”
His afloat, deployed, and staff assignments include serving as officer-in-charge of the Detainee Review Boards, at the Detention Facility in Parwan, Afghanistan, which were responsible for conducting administrative boards for all U.S. Law of Armed Conflict detainees; deputy command judge advocate, onboard USS George Washington (CVN 73), ported in Yokosuka, Japan; and force judge advocate for Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Korea.
Eaton’s shore assignments include serving as branch head of Naval Legal Service Office, North Central, Branch Office Newport, R.I.; and as an instructor at the Naval Justice School, teaching Ethics, Administrative, and National Security Law. Eaton is authorized to wear the Meritorious
Service Medal; Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, with a gold star in lieu of second award; the Army Commendation Medal; and the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal, with a gold star in lieu of second award; as well as various other unit and campaign medals and decorations.