Pleased today to welcome this post by University of Georgia School of Law student Davis Wright, who describes his just-completed his Fall 2021 externship in Norfolk, Virginia, in the legal department of HQ SACT, a leading unit of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. This externship is administered by our law school’s Dean Rusk International Law Center in partnership with NATO Allied Command Transformation. Davis arrived at Georgia Law with a background in international relations and politics, having competed in Model United Nations and worked for a member of the Dáil Éireann. His experiences at Georgia Law have included service as a Dean Rusk International Law Center Student Ambassador and J.D.-to-LL.M. liaison. He is due to receive his J.D. degree this May, and then to begin practice as an Associate at the Atlanta office of Jones Day.
Working in the Office of the Legal Advisor at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Headquarters Supreme Allied Commander Transformation (HQ SACT) in Norfolk, Virginia, was an exciting and rewarding experience. In the time I was at HQ SACT I grew substantially, in personal, academic, and professional aspects.
During the time I spent at HQ SACT, I was exposed to a diverse range of ideas and people. While the Chief Legal Advisor at HQ SACT is American, there is a French Legal Advisor, a Dutch Legal Advisor, and a Turkish intern. All of these interactions were valuable to me as I was exposed to cultural and legal perspectives from their home nations.
My interactions at the office likewise gave me exposure to a diverse set of views on a variety of topics, ranging from the insignificant, such as musical preferences, to the significant, such as views on the war in Afghanistan and NATO’s involvement in it. These new friendships, and sometimes deep discussions, helped me grow as a person and challenged my views and perspective of the world.
As one part of my externship at HQ SACT, I participated in a once-a-week seminar course with Georgia Law Professor Diane Marie Amann, who is a Faculty Co-Director of the Dean Rusk International Law Center. We discussed a variety of topics through weekly readings on different areas of international law. Highlights included the role of the legal advisor in armed conflict, rules of engagement, and immunities of international organizations in domestic courts. Most of these subjects were new to me, and the weekly seminar helped build my knowledge and challenge my perspective on different international legal issues.
I am especially pleased that I was encouraged to lead the discussions in this seminar and to select readings for subjects that I find of interest. This encouragement to be curious and take a leading role also helped me grow academically.
The experience at HQ SACT was completely new for me as I had never before worked in the national security sector or for an international organization. My time in the legal office was largely split into two categories, as follows:
- Legal assistance: During the mornings I was assigned to legal assistance work. This is essentially all the support elements that the office provides to both civilian and military personnel at HQ SACT. This work varies depending on who walks through the door, but includes a large amount of immigration work. These experiences provided me an appreciation of the multitude of legal issues that foreign personnel face during their time in the United States. Additionally, these experiences provided me valuable client interaction that will assist my future career.
- Legal projects: In the afternoons I worked on projects for the legal advisors. These projects varied considerably. For example, I had the opportunity to work on an overhaul to the general terms and conditions throughout HQ SACT and its subordinate commands, and to research whether NATO information is protected under U.S. laws against espionage. These projects all challenged me and provided an opportunity to make a substantial impact during my time at HQ SACT.
In short, my time at NATO helped me grow as an aspiring lawyer, law student, and person. I am sure I will use the experiences I have gained so far at NATO in my future career.
I am extremely grateful that the Dean Rusk International Law Center and the University of Georgia School of Law allowed me to partake in this unique experience. Specifically, I would like to thank the Center’s Associate Director for Global Practice Preparation, Sarah Quinn, and Professor Amann, for their valuable guidance. I would also like to thank everyone at HQ SACT, especially Theresa Donahue, Kathy Hansen-Nord, Monte DeBoer, Butch Bracknell, Mette Hartov, Vincent Grassin, and Muge Karatas.