By David Drucker, Greg Miller and Jennifer R. Perez
The U.S. military is famous for its rigorous standards in accepting new officers. Students who pass through Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTCs) around the country often wake up before dawn for physical training. They conduct leadership labs and learn military science, all while balancing a full academic curriculum.
Alumni Stefano and Angelo Schibeci '19 have conquered these challenges. In 2019, they commissioned at the top of their ROTC class. Now, they are going above and beyond in the hope of becoming Air Force lawyers.
Soon the Schibeci brothers will be two-time Panther grads. They graduated summa cum laude with political science degrees from FIU in 2019 while commissioning from the local Air Force ROTC based at the University of Miami. Currently, they are training to become assistant staff Judge Advocate Generals (JAGs), otherwise known as lawyers in the military. They are one year away from graduating from FIU Law and taking the bar.
“Attending law school at FIU is allowing us to stay in the place that we love while doing something that we really wanted to do,” Angelo says.
The brothers are among a small number of commissioned officers on educational delay, a designation that allows them to complete their law degrees without being called to full active duty. The duo is currently interning at military bases in Florida. They're working with JAGs, and their clients, on legal matters for the branch’s veterans; with the lawyers on cases that deal with crimes on the base; and assisting with cases of non-judicial punishments.
The road to becoming a military lawyer has multiple steps that span almost a decade. Once the Schibeci brothers graduate from FIU Law, they will be assessed by the Air Force JAG Corps before receiving a definitive answer as to whether they have been accepted. If taken, they will report on active duty to a base with a military legal office onsite. Then the brothers will conduct an eight-week JAG training program.
The work and sacrifices along the way have been 100 percent worth it, Stefano says. He and his brother describe themselves as ‘military brats,’ having been raised by a father and family dedicated to serving the Navy.
"What I like about this program is you get the option to apply," he says. "You don’t have to worry about them reaching down to select you. If you really want it and you really work hard, you are going to get it."
Their ascension comes at a momentous time in military law history. Uniformed lawyers may see a large uptick in responsibility under a bill that Congress has been working on for years regarding sexual assault. These cases have always been the responsibility of commanders to determine; however, the U.S. legislative branch is considering a bill that will shift this responsibility to the domain of lawyers.
“It really is since the biggest change in the military justice system since World War II, and it’s happening in the next couple of months,” says associate professor Eric Carpenter, a former Army JAG who teaches at FIU Law. “Angelo and Stefano are going to be on the cutting edge. By the time they are done with their training, they will be trying cases for the first time in history when lawyers are in charge of them, from start to finish.”
Until this Panther duo takes the bar in a year, they will continue to add to their resumes and involvements. Angelo and Stefano served last year as the president and vice president of the Veterans and Military Affairs Law Student Association (VMALSA), respectively, and currently serve as the communication/events chair and treasurer. VMALSA provides resources and contacts for FIU Law students and alumni who are interested in entering the military, and it assists people who are currently in the military and veterans. The law school has approximately 10 to 15 student veterans a year.
Angelo also has an upcoming internship with Carpenter at the National Institute of Military Justice, a nonprofit that educates people on military justice and develops policy statements. The organization also sends observers to the military commissions in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and he plans to visit there this fall as part of those efforts to provide transparency to the proceedings.