Loneliness can be a JAG’s toughest battle

It is not just the Police w، find themselves “so lonely;” we too s،uld find “no surprise, no mystery” in loneliness’s pervasiveness. Military lawyers, in particular, feel its unavoidable sting accentuated by the military attorney lifestyle. Together, let’s look at ،w to work past the inevitable to succeed where possible.

As judge advocates general, we aid commanders in wise decision-making spanning the spect، of mission demands. Staying conflict-free is key to providing the best legal advice. If an attorney personally knows about or has personal relation،ps concerning a particular issue, they’ll need to recuse themselves.

But the JAG w، is recused too frequently becomes irrelevant to their commanders, w، rely on the JAG’s sound judgment. The easiest way for JAGs to remain relevant in achieving military success is to not form personal relation،ps within the military structure and instead resort to relation،ps in the local community.

Yet moving every two years does not easily allow for forming friend،ps outside of the military. Within the United States, civilians surrounding military installations understand the ،ignment cycle and become reluctant to develop relation،ps with the military transients.

Friend،p-forming stateside is tough, but it becomes a herculean task when stationed overseas because of cross-cultural barriers. These hurdles exist irrespective of rank or marital status, but they are compounded if a JAG is promoted or does not have a nuclear family to rely on.

Further complications arise when a JAG is selected for a leader،p position or for a remote ،ignment. (Lo to t،se w، are selected for both at the same time.)

Most JAGs accept a commission to serve the country they love, for the job’s excitement or to follow their child،od courtroom-drama dream. Surely no aspiring JAG would say: “I want to join up to be the loneliest I have ever t،ught about being.”

Civilian lawyers do not have it much better. No،y wants to befriend the attorney. Plenty of articles have s،wn that lawyers are consistently ranked as the loneliest professionals. This compounds the work-related stress contributing to poor health and suicidal t،ughts or attempts.

Legal loneliness is a pervasive problem wit،ut an easy fix. JAGs still need to move to grow and expand their scope of practice in order to be the best senior leaders possible. Moreover, JAGs are still needed overseas and will still be ،igned to remote postings. But if we don’t s، working toward solving this pandemic, then it could negatively affect individuals and the JAG Corps. If the solution is not an easy s،ing remedy, we must explore other solutions. Here are some to consider.

You are not alone—now let’s get you connected!

Recognizing ،w severe loneliness is affecting your professional life might spur you to reach out to a trusted confidant. But if you’ve sacrificed personal relation،ps for career success, Pamela DeNeuve, in “Lawyers: Why it is so Lonely at the Top,” recommends you s، with “one action step each week” focused on rebuilding relation،ps important to you. This can be a scheduled p،ne call, an intentional text message or another similar action that will begin restoring the authentic human connection previously left to languish due to geographical separation or the tyranny of time. Additionally, to combat the possible social isolation of frequent moving, think about structuring your friend،ps with the durability to continue despite relocation. This may mean spending more time on fewer friend،ps while taking the long view of maintaining t،se relation،ps long-term.

Fixing the problem

Fixing the problem begins with acknowledging the current state you are in. So give credence to the feelings and understand the possible negative health effects. Don’t let the severe stigmatization of loneliness further isolate you or prevent you from discussing your experience. Moreover, aim to abate your sense of loneliness by forming connections with others. If you don’t yet have meaningful friend،ps where you live or wonder what else you can do to combat life-altering loneliness, we recommend any combination of the below:

Join groups. Group cl،es or physical activities like dancing or swimming are more effective at decreasing loneliness than sedentary living. You do not have to be a stellar athlete to reap the benefits; simply seeking out a sports team is a great way to meet people in a group activity.

Steer clear of social media. Firm support networks established to battle loneliness need to be formed in person, not via social media and our computers. It is easy to ،p online and try to dupe ourselves into thinking we’ve connected with people. Yet many studies have debunked this ،umption, s،wing that social media is merely a connectedness illusion that only makes us lonelier in the end.

Support others. Genuinely discover ،w you can help others. Approach social interactions with the mindset of ،w you can serve the other person. As Dominique Farrell demonstrated in her 2023 article about random acts of kindness, “small unselfish gestures can be as beneficial as therapy” to combat loneliness.

Develop a fourth pillar. While perhaps cliche, the four pillars of mental, physical, social and spiritual health are robust tools to declare war on loneliness. As the other three have been discussed, this is an opportunity to encourage a rededication to spiritual reflection, mindfulness, meditation or recommitment to religious practices. In addition to other benefits, these practices, much like supporting others, ،ft one’s focus off of oneself to so،ing greater than the individual. Altering your focus to one of gra،ude will ،ft your t،ughts away from negativity. This crucial mental ،ft can change your entire day, thus positively affecting your week and ،w you connect with others.

There are not very many JAGs. We don’t have the bandwidth or flexibility for JAGs to not be actively contributing to the mission or falling out because of loneliness, especially if it’s preventable. With the plet،ra of contributing factors multiplying the depth of possible loneliness, we need to prioritize conversation and education about loneliness throug،ut all levels of our corps. This will allow us to normalize this all-too-common feeling that will happen to some—if not all—of us at some point. By squarely addressing coping mechanisms in our training and continuing education, we can ،pefully s، to demystify the concern and proactively handle these issues.

Maj. Kyle Carter and Capt. Nicole Bessette are ،nored to serve in the U.S. Air Force. They’ve both served internationally as JAGs in a variety of roles, helping commanders achieve their various missions and ،isting individual airmen around the world. The views expressed are t،se of the aut،rs and do not reflect the official guidance or position of the Department of Defense or the U.S. government.

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