By Lt. Adam Brandon, Naval Air Station Jacksonville
200 years ago, the young American republic fought a war with Great Britain, the world’s preeminent maritime power. Comprised of just eight frigates, 14 sloops, and no ships of the line, the U.S. Navy successfully defended the nation’s honor and sovereignty against the 600 Royal Navy ships. With the odds stacked against it, and having sustained its share of setbacks and defeats. The scrappy fleet continued to fight and to hold its own.
By the end of the war, stories of the victories of the USS Constitution (“Old Ironsides”), Capt. James Lawrence’s battle cry “Don’t Give Up the Ship,” and the defeat of the British fleet on Lake Erie inspired the fledgling country. Naval leaders like Stephen Decatur, Isaac Hull, and Oliver Hazard Perry became national heroes and household names. More importantly, the War of 1812 transformed the United States from a nascent seaboard nation into a global power.
Today, few people remember these heroes or understand the significance of the conflict. To educate the public about the war, the U.S. Navy has coordinated with non-profit organizations, foreign navies, and 14 cities to put together the “Bicentennial Commemoration of the War of 1812” (COMWAR 1812). During various Fleet Weeks, Navy Weeks, and other commemorative events, COMWAR 1812 honors the significant impact the war has had on the United States and its Navy. Over the course of the next three years, special events are scheduled to occur along both the East Coast and the Great Lakes region.
Between April 17-23, the City of New Orleans inaugurated COMWAR 1812 when a coalition of nine ships assembled from the United States, France, Great Britain, Canada, Indonesia, and Ecuador. These warships and tall ships hosted over 120,000 people on the Mississippi River. Fleet Week activities included official visits among foreign leaders, civilian dignitaries, and Navy leadership, as well as dozens of regional outreach and service projects. Visiting Sailors competed in various friendly competitions including a seafood cook-off featuring local celebrity chefs teamed with military culinary specialists. In short, the six-day celebration showcased the capabilities of both historic and modern ships and, more importantly, honored the sacrifice of all who have served in the sea services of their nation.
The New Orleans COMWAR 1812 event could not have succeeded without proactive legal support. For that reason, Navy Region Southeast appointed Cmdr. (sel.) Christopher Mora the Naval Support Activity New Orleans staff judge advocate (SJA), as the principal ‘boots on the ground’ legal advisor. Throughout the 18 months of preparation for the COMWAR 1812 event, Mora led a team from Region Legal Service Office Southeast (RLSO SE) that consisted of Lt. Jonathan Hawkins, Lt. Jeffrey Marden, and Legalman 1st Class Scott Lorenson.
After reviewing the entire COMWAR 1812 operational order for legal sufficiency, the RLSO SE team developed official COMWAR 1812 legal guidance in areas such as admiralty law, criminal law, ethics and standards of conduct, and the facilitation of tort claims. In addition, Mora created a comprehensive legal support plan to ensure the efficient and effective provision of legal services, including a protocol to process and accept numerous gifts between senior military officials and elected leaders, and prompt approvals for the proposed events to include an air show. Additionally, a full-time judge advocate was positioned within the COMWAR 1812 New Orleans Command Center during all events, to field questions and provide advice on any issues that arose. Although the legal guidance and support plan were designed specifically for the New Orleans event; the legal team’s exceptional support and resulting work product provides a model for future COMWAR 1812 events.
To ensure success, the SJA office coordinated with the COMWAR 1812 event planners and legal counsel well in advance of the event, and at all levels including, but not limited to, Fleet Forces Command, Expeditionary Strike Group Two, the Naval History and Heritage Command, the Navy Office of Community Outreach, Navy Region Southeast, Reserve Forces Command, the Marine Corps, the Coast Guard, the City of New Orleans Mayor’s Office, City Council and Police Department, the Port of New Orleans, the New Orleans Convention & Visitors Bureau, Canadian defense and diplomatic officials, and numerous private and non-profit organizations throughout the Greater New Orleans Region.
Thanks to the efforts of the RLSO SE team and all others who support COMWAR 1812, the next three years promise to educate millions of people about the heroes, traditions, and sacrifices of the U.S. Navy which continues to be “A global force for good.”