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March 14, 2024

Rising to the Challenge: Plummer, L ’93, Cites CapLaw’s Influence in Preparing Him for JAG

From a young age, Lt. Gen. Charles Plummer, L ’93, knew that he wanted to do something that was bigger than himself. And, like any successful lawyer or military leader, he was always preparing for his next move.

Today, Plummer serves as The Judge Advocate General (TJAG) of the United States Air Force and Space Force, where he leads the Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps. He says he didn’t initially pursue a career in law. A graduate of State University of New York, Brockport, he earned his undergraduate degree in criminal justice with a minor in political science. “I thought I was going to be a New York State Trooper,” he says before he started considering a role with the FBI following internships with the Rochester Public Defender’s Office and the Rochester Police Department.

“I thought law school would further my chances with the FBI,” the Syracuse native recalls. While applying to law school, his parents relocated to Cincinnati, so he applied to universities in both New York and Ohio.

Plummer says he researched schools and was drawn to Capital University Law School for its high bar exam passage rate. It’s a decision that he never regretted.

“Capital holds a special part in my heart,” he says. “However you define success, Capital played a huge part in that. I don’t think I’d be here without the fantastic professors I had that shaped me and made me as successful as I’ve been.”

Plummer’s CapLaw diploma proudly hangs on the wall of his office in the Pentagon. But that’s not the only remembrance he carries with him. He stills keeps in touch with a number of his fellow law school students.

“The students – my classmates – as well as the faculty members made it special,” he says of his time in Columbus. “There was a community – a camaraderie – and I have fond memories.”

He credits a number of faculty members, including former Interim Dean Brian Freeman, Professor Emerita Jean Mortland, Professor Michael Distelhorst and Professor Emeritus Stan Darling, with preparing him for his future roles. “All of them really laid the foundation,” he says. “I still have all my green Hornbooks from Capital.”

As TJAG, Plummer serves as legal adviser to the Secretary of the Air Force, the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, the Chief of Space Operations, and all officers and agencies of the Department of the Air Force. In addition, he has oversight of more than 2,200 judge advocates, 350 civilian attorneys, 1,400 enlisted paralegals and 500 civilian employees.

“Capital really laid the foundation for those basic skills of research, critical thinking, and analytical thinking,” he says. Plummer emphasizes that he applies what he learned at Capital every day.  The focus on foundational skills served him well in every job he has had and he has made it a focus item for the entire Corps, starting with the students at the Air Force Judge Advocate General’s School.

“I always wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself,” says Plummer, who also holds a Master of Laws degree from Syracuse University, in addition to numerous military degrees. “Law enabled me to do that.”

Thinking about his family history, Plummer says he always intended to serve his country and believes his family’s history likely played a role in that for the self-described “Upstate New York blue-collar boy.”

On his father’s side, one of his direct relatives was in the 121st New York Volunteers who fought in the Civil War. Plummer still has his discharge papers and battle diary.

On his mother’s side, his great-grandfather immigrated from Italy where he had served in the Italian Navy, and his maternal grandfather was enlisted in the U.S. Navy during World War II and the Korean War.

An uncle was a Vietnam-era Marine. Plummer describes a photo where he was just a toddler seeing his uncle leave from the Greyhound bus station in Syracuse. He admits that military service is something that was probably long ingrained in him.

Plummer’s career has taken him all over the country and around the world. He entered the Air Force by direct appointment in September 1995. He served as the Staff Judge Advocate to the 3rd Air Expeditionary Group at Kwang Ju Air Base in South Korea and as the Staff Judge Advocate to a Joint Special Operations Task Force in Jordan.

While he says he has enjoyed every assignment he has been given, he acknowledges that his time as a Deputy Legal Counsel in the Office of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for Admiral Michael Mullen from 2008 to 2010 was among the most memorable.

“Every day, I was working on something ripped from the headlines, and there were many classified things, too,” he says. “My portfolio there spanned every aspect from homeland defense, to contingency plans for the Vancouver Olympics, to the Haiti earthquake, to repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, to ballistic missile defense from Iran and North Korea.”

Though he has been highly decorated, including receiving a Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit with two oak leaf clusters, Defense Meritorious Service medal, Meritorious Service Medal with three oak leaf clusters, and an Air and Space Commendation Medal, Plummer doesn’t hesitate when asked which achievement makes him the proudest.

As a first-generation college graduate, he says it is “the combination of graduation from Brockport and graduation from Capital, in tandem with passing the New York Bar. Those three things my family is most proud of,” he says.

And while he admits he was “ecstactic” when he was promoted to Colonel, let alone Lt. General, Plummer remains humble. “I’m still kind of the same blue-collar kid I was at Capital.”

In the JAG Corps, he says, opportunities for lawyers abound. “We do a lot of mentoring and career counseling and you’ve got to self-assess and know yourself,” Plummer says. “But given all the areas of law in which we work – military justice, international law, government contracts and acquisitions, labor law, environmental law, even complicated questions of constitutional and administrative law – there are a variety of paths you can take in the JAG Corps. But it’s part and parcel of the grander scheme: serving a cause and being bigger than yourself.”

Department of The Air Force Official Biography: