The military and obeying the Law of Armed Conflict

5 mins read
Photo of the author during his military service.

I joined the United States Air Force near the very beginning of my senior year in high school. I signed my initial delayed entry contract in October of 1986, barely a month after my seventeenth birthday. I grew up on Hill Air Force Base (AFB), Utah, and wanted to work on aircraft for years. I started basic training at Lackland AFB and actually turned 18 a few weeks into training. When I first joined, I knew that I wanted to make the Air Force a career when I first joined and I stayed on active duty for 23 years and actually retired from active duty on July 31, 2010. 

When I first enlisted, and every time I reenlisted, I took the Oath of Enlistment:

I, Jeffrey Donn Parris, Do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

I took this Oath very seriously. Including my first enlistment, I took this Oath a total of six times by the time I retired in 2010. In my 23 years of service, I deployed a total of 12 times to the Middle East at the orders of the officers appointed over me and to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. While on active duty, I also learned as much as possible about the Uniform Code of Military Justice so I would ensure that I knew what was required of me as a supervisor and leader of other Airmen. I also always carried my little brown book, which was the Air Force Handbook on the Enlisted Force Structure. So, I would like to say that I took my orders and the law very seriously during my career.

Even thought I studied all of those items above, I didn’t have to certify or take any online training for those items. It was expected of me as an Airman, a Non-Commissioned Officer, and a Senior Non-Commissioned Officer (SNCO). One thing I did have to review and certify that I reviewed each of every year of my military service was the Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC). 

As the Peterson AFB Legal Document states: 

The Law of Armed Conflict (LOAC) is a series of broad-based rules defining how we fight a war. LOAC differs from the Rules of Engagement (ROE) in that ROE are specific instructions telling us how to operate during a specific scenario such as in Desert Storm. However, LOAC is a set of generalized rules that would apply to any armed conflict. LOAC principles have developed from a variety of places. Another place that LOAC rules come from is international law, such as the Geneva Conventions, Hague Conventions, and the Chemical Weapons Convention. Finally, we have rules that develop from U.S. law such as the UCMJ, and the Code of Conduct.

One of the most important parts of LOAC is the reporting requirements. If you know of a violation of LOAC, it is your duty to report that violation to your chain of command, the legal office, the chaplain, or any responsible party that can take action. 

Also, LOAC clearly states, you must also follow lawful orders. However, an order to commit a criminal act, such as a violation of LOAC, is illegal and you must not follow it. That means if the President of the United States gives an order that would be a violation of LOAC, I am to not follow the Oath of Enlistment, and even though it is the President, it is an unlawful order. Attacking cultural or religious sites is definitely a violation of LOAC and should not be obeyed by any member of the United States Armed Forces.

Jeffrey D. Parris, MSgt, USAF (Ret.)


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USAF - 23 years. NE Outreach Coordinator
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