We see them all the time – walking around the installation, wearing their digital-print camouflage uniforms. They go to the super market, collect mail, visit the bank, or grab their meals at the same establishments we do.
Each and every one of our U.S. Air Force Airmen serve a purpose in accomplishing the same mission, but do we really know what they specifically do? Can you confidently say that you know the job specifics of that one Airman you saw carrying one-too-many, heavy grocery bags for one trip from commissary to their car and then the bottom of the plastic bags gave out and the entire contents of their shopping tumbled to the wet pavement and they kind of spent two seconds looking at the mess around their feet before looking up at the sky and give up a huge sigh because: it’s raining, the bags are useless, how are they supposed to make spaghetti dinner now that the noodles are broken and the sauce jar broke, and they don’t have time for this because they just can’t literally even right now?
For those of you just as curious as me, welcome to the third entry in my blog series, “What do you do?” a series in which I, Airman 1st Class Timothy Kim, inform you of exactly what some of our Airmen do to ensure the success of our installation’s mission!
The series will be posted on a monthly basis, each entry identifying a specific Air Force Specialty Code and informing you, my readers, on:
-What they do
-How they do it
-Why they do it
So, without a further ado, a-let’s a-go ahead and dive into today’s highlighted AFSC!
The AFSC 5J0X1 (Paralegal)
Paralegals, by definition, are people trained in subsidiary legal matters but not fully qualified as a lawyer.
I don’t know about you, but studying law and the justice system of our country, let alone the U.S. Air Force’s, wasn’t exactly on the top of my to-do list, but it has been something that has tickled my curiosity. Why?
The legal system is a process developed by our government for interpreting and enforcing the law – which is a set of rules determined by our government as to what is right and wrong.
I’m sure that most of us know the rules, but I think it’s also fair to state that though we are aware of it, we aren’t highly trained in understanding every nook and cranny of our country’s laws. (At least, for me, I know that, according to the Fifth Amendment, I have the right to remain silent.)
It’s for these reasons that lawyers, attorneys and paralegals exist to help us – those that aren’t too familiar or professionally trained in the laws of our country – understand and to counsel us when we have issues that pertain to the legal system.
In this issue, we’re going to be looking very closely at what our highlighted AFSC does: The Paralegals.
The What: The 5J0X1 Airmen, part of the Judge Advocate General’s Corps, work to deliver professional, candid, independent counsel and full-spectrum legal capabilities to command and the warfighter.
According to the JAG Corps’ mission statement:
“The Air Force, like other Services, operates in an increasingly legalistic environment, which demands nothing less than the very best legal capability it can field. The Air Force JAG Corps supplies that demand with its talented and highly trained group of legal professionals.”
JAG and its staff of paralegals ensure that we’re well-counseled and assisted throughout any legal procedures that we need help with. However, according to U.S. Air Force Maj. Mark Golden, 52nd Judge Advocate deputy staff judge advocate, JAG does more than simply handle legal matters and offer counsel.
“They say JA stands for ‘just ask’ and it’s true,” Golden said. “We’re to assist on the whole legal spectrum from military justice to civil issues to legal assistance. We advise wing leadership, Airmen and dependents. If you have a question, just ask and we will provide you with an answer.”
With a policy that encourages clients to come in and ask any questions they have, how does JAG accomplish such a feat?
The Legal Office and its Paralegal Airmen work in three different departments:
- General Law
- Military Justice
- Area Defense Council
The General Law section of JAG is one that caters more toward the base community more than anything else. Have a speeding ticket you need to settle? Filing for a divorce and trying to figure out the logistics and the various state laws that may or may not apply depending where you and your spouse are currently located or will be?
The Airmen located downstairs and normally the place you go to seek legal consultation are the ones that normally greet you with a patient smile that seems to let you know, “Hey, it’s going to be okay – we’re here to help you out.”
“We answer phone calls, answer questions, give power of attorney notaries and we also schedule clients with attorneys for legal assistance and wills,” said U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Catherine Westervelt, a 52nd Judge Advocate paralegal. “It’s important because we are giving the Airmen piece of mind. When they come in they have a personal issue that they’re stressed over and that’s why they come into the legal office. When you’re stressed about personal issues, are you really going to be focused on your job?”
Though they aren’t lawyers, paralegals are very knowledgeable with the Uniform Code of Military Justice and are more than capable of helping clients. However, when it comes to confidential counseling, paralegals can set up appointments with attorneys.
“We constantly work with everyone – anywhere from service members and civilians who live on this base to first sergeants and commanders who have questions,” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Lezette Kennedy, another paralegal. “We’re constantly dealing with their personal lives, whether it’s buying their first new homes or selling their old one, getting married for the first time or getting a divorce. These things are things that are close to the heart and can affect a service member’s ability to perform well at their jobs.”
Though the General Law side is quite capable of handling legal matters for clients, it’s important to keep in mind that our paralegals are only well-versed in U.S. laws. So what happens if we have complications that involve the German law? After all, we are guests in our host nation.
Luckily, the JAG employs the assistants of German paralegals, who work to ensure that the base’s population is covered when they happen to find themselves in legal situations and they don’t know what to do.
The key thing to remember about the legal system is that every country has a different one (seems fair, right?) It would only make sense that an American paralegal would be well-versed in the ways of the U.S. legal system, after all. With that in mind, USAF employs host national paralegals to perform the same functions as General Law does, but holding knowledge about their country’s laws.
The paralegals working upstairs in Military Justice Department handle legal matters from a different perspective. Whereas the General Law section caters towards the base community, the Military Justice department consults leadership in regards to legal matter.
Say the commander of a squadron needed to write up legal paperwork or an article to distribute punitive actions or other administrative paper trails. To ensure that they were pulling correct citations from the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the squadron’s first sergeant would approach the Military Justice section and request consultation on a specific case that requires legal paper work to be filed.
Additionally, when legal matters are taken to a certain point that calls for a court martial, the paralegals of the MJD step up to assist the attorneys and lawyers that handle the case – backgrounds, articles from the UCMJ and notifying all the departments in order to set up a proper court martial? Yeah, these guys work hard behind draped curtains to ensure that the show must go on.
“There’s not a facet on this base we don’t touch, unlike any other office,” said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Osby Watts, JA superintendent. “We have our hands, ears and eyes on every single thing that happens on this installation. Our staff’s skill set is so diverse in every area. We provide a top-notch service without a hitch, because I believe a lot of agencies, despite something being their program, still come to us and request counsel on a way ahead. It’s a great opportunity to be a JA professional on this installation.”
Oh, and the legal blotter stuff you see on the main web page that normally notifies you of ongoing cases and the sentences that have been ruled? Also these guys’ handiwork – they draft up the updates and ensure that it goes through the proper process to ensure that those that are invested or interested get a proper update of a specific court martial case.
Area Defense Counsel
The ADC works strictly as a counseling agency for the Airmen that need help when it comes to legal matters. When you’ve been handed legal papers or accused of something in legal terms, you have the right to be represented by counsel at the magistrate hearing when a determination is made regarding continued pretrial confinement, at the Article 32 investigation and during all court-martial sessions.
In plain English, this counsel exists to make sure that you are properly represented and defended, regardless of what comes your way. Got a Letter of Reprimand or an Article 15? The ADC exists to consult you on the gravity of your situation and how they can help you out. As the ADC provides confident counseling, Attorney-client privilege exists between you and your ADC representative.
Ultimately, I used to think (as you may have as well, but are afraid to admit), JAG is one of the agencies that we know is important, but not sure exactly how or in what way; unless you have legal matters truly breathing down your neck, what paralegals and those in JAG do aren’t constantly thriving in your mind.
But according to Lt. Col. Christine Lamont, 52nd Fighter Wing JAG staff judge advocate, the agency provides more than just legal consultation or reprieve from judicial due process.
“We have a vast mission set here,” Lamont said. “Well beyond what the typical Airmen would see – which is Article 15s, court-martials and notaries at the front desk. We’re involved in almost every cornerstone of this wing’s mission in an advisory capacity. We also work with our Airmen on an individual basis through our legal assistance program and its preventive law nature. We provide preventive law information as well as working with our Airmen to make them better supervisors through information on how to enforce that good order and discipline well before a subject may receive a commander’s attention. We’re there for Airmen personally and professionally. We’re also there for commanders when an issue gets to that level.”
Honestly, my personal perspective on it changed after getting to know the staff that works tirelessly at JAG.
An Airman, despite his or her dedication to serve their country, is, at the end of the day, a person. A person who feels, stresses, worries, waits and ponders. Though we all hold noble intentions of ensuring that our country can continue to not only maintain, but also better our way of life, we – individually ourselves – cannot put aside all of our personal concerns and worries just to carry on as professionally as we can muster.
The Judge Advocacy doesn’t simply exist to ensure that all legal matters are taken care of with a cold, iron fist. Matter of fact, JAG has a customer service section in their office for a reason. They are here on every military installation, not only to make sure that legal matters are taken care of and proper proceedings are cleared regarding matters to the UCMJ, but they also exist to help you – my dear readers – take care of yourselves.
So, now that you know what Paralegals do, dear readers, could you please tell me:
What do you do?