Q: The Navy Justice Series
Don Brown, a former US Navy JAG officer, is author of Zondervan’s riveting Navy Justice Series, chronicling the exploits of JAG Officers Zack Brewer and Diane Colcernian. Having spent five years on active duty, including a stint in the Pentagon, and having completed the nonresident course in International Law at the U.S. Naval War College, Don brings his experiences to bear in penning novels about Navy JAG, weaving romance, suspense, terrorism and faith around the high drama of military courts-martial.
Here are a few of the questions he often hears:
Q: What is a JAG officer
A: A JAG officer is a commissioned officer serving on active duty in the US Military who serves as an attorney. JAG Officers operate in the military justice system as prosecutors and defense counsel. Others work in legal assistance, preparing wills and powers of attorney for navy personnel. Still others work in the field of international law, both on ships at sea, in overseas posts, and in Washington. In the Navy, JAG officers hold the lowest rank of ensign, all the way up to the highest rank of Rear Admiral.
Q: I’m a big fan of the show JAG. Is that really what it’s like to be in the JAG Corps?
A: Sometimes. They get some basic concept right. The uniforms are right on mark. But at other times, Jag is more Hollywood than reality. For example JAG headquarters are not located in Falls Church, Virginia. And most JAG officers don’t really fly F-15 Tomcats like Commander Rabb. Still, the show does a great job of illustrating some of the issues that Navy JAG officers face.
Q: What about the movie, A Few Good Men, with Jack Nicholson, Tom Cruise, and Demi Moore? Is that realistic?
A: A Few Good Men, especially the dramatic court-martial scenes, is very close to being on mark. I’d say it’s about 85% accurate. The movie is based on an actual trail that took place in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, more than ten years ago.
Q: I’m thinking about going to Law School. What would be the professional advantages of going into the JAG Corps?
A: The JAG Corps, particularly the Navy JAG Corps, provides the best opportunity for extensive trial experience with felony-level cases right out of law school.
Q. Your first novel, Treason, contains several powerful court-martial scenes. How realistic are these scenes?
A: Very realistic. Although Treason is a work of fiction, I’ve written the court-martial scenes with a view toward giving the reader a sense of being present in the midst of high-stakes courtroom drama involving national security.
Q: Tell me about Zack Brewer and Diane Colcernian.
A: Lieutenants Zack Brewer and Diane Colcernian are sharp, ambitious US Navy JAG Officers who are the main characters in the Navy Justice Series. They are fierce rivals from their days at the Naval Justice School in Newport Rhode Island, where Diane was class valedictorian. Zack, on the other hand, was a happy-go-lucky naval officer who could care less about class rank.
But he has a great natural flair for trial advocacy. When he whips Diane in the finals of the Naval Justice School Trial Advocacy Competition, her hatred for him grows. After justice school, they are both transferred to San Diego, where they clash like lions in a pit over a high-profile rape case that he is prosecuting and she is defending. Later, they are both assigned as co-prosecutors in the trial of three Islamic Chaplains accused of Treason.
The press calls it the Court-Martial of the Century and the chaplains are defended by internationally-acclaimed defense attorney Wells Levinson of Los Angelse. Zack and Diane must find a way to bury their friction, or better yet, channel it against a common enemy. If not, they will be buried themselves on national television by Levinson.
Q: That sound a little like David vs. Goliath
A: In a sense that’s fair to say. Brewer and Colcernian, at the end of the day, face insurmountable odds and must rely on all their faith and all their abilities for the task before them. Of course, David won his battle with Goliath. It may not be all that simple for Brewer and Colcernian.
Q. How do you pronounce Colcernian?
A: Then names Italian. She pronounces it like this. “Kol-ser-nee-un.” Accent on the second syllable, please. She doesn’t like when you mispronounce her name. And trust me. You don’t want her on your bad side.
Q: What’s been the most fun part about writing this series?
A: Writing for me, is a catharsis, a source great relaxation. As a writer, you find yourself living with your characters, and living through them. I’m not as bad about this as I used to be, but when I was working on on my first novel, Destiny, I’d come home at night and say to my wife, “you won’t believe what Walter – my first book’s protagonist – did today.” Then I’d remind myself that Walter is a figment of my imagination. Or is he? Anyway it was kind of scary in a way. I’m not that bad anymore. But I still get writers high whenever I write.
Q: When and where do you write?
A: I’m not too creative after six o’clock in the evenings. So I typically read in the evenings and write in the mornings. Usually, I’ll write for an hour or two either at the Waffle House, McDonalds, or Chick-fil-a. Sometimes depending on my schedule, I’ll take my laptop and write on my lunch hour. I’m writing right now at Good Ole Days café, a 50s motif restaurant with good food and Elvis blaring from the jukebox.
Q: The storyline for Treason has radical Islamic terrorists infiltrating the Navy, masquerading as Navy chaplains. Is this a realistic scenario?
A: Yes, Because the Chaplain Corps must by law embrace Islamic clerics, and because it is difficult to root out deep-seeded radical Islamic beliefs from moderates who may mean no harm, the scenario is very realistic. In fact, in October of 2003, NBC News Correspondent Lisa Myers reported that the consultant who helped the Pentagon develop the military’s Muslim Chaplain Program, a man who served as a Pentagon consultant for ten years, was accused of providing “financial support to Hamas” and “financial support to fronts for al-Quaida.” NBC news reported that this individual was indicted.
Q: What works of fiction do you enjoy?
A: I enjoy historical fiction and thrillers, with perhaps a tinge of romance interspersed from time-to-time. Some of the books that I’ve enjoyed in the last couple of years and would recommend include Safely Home, by Randy Alcorn; A Ship Possessed by Alton Gansky; The Corps Series, by W.E.B Griffin; the Shofar Blew, by Francine Rivers; The Trial, by Robert Whitlow; The Left Behind series, by LaHaye and Jenkins, and Red Storm Rising by Tom Clancy.