Osan JA takes law into own hands
OSAN AIR BASE, Republic of Korea -- With Osan Air Base's high operations tempo, judge advocates and paralegals from the 51st Fighter Wing Staff Judge Advocate's Office ensure mission success for more than Airmen and families stationed on base.
The legal office acts as the main adviser to senior leadership on disciplinary actions, fundraisers, base events or any topics that need a legal review before decisions are made.
"Working at the Osan Legal Office really gives you an opportunity to find out who you are, and what you're made of," said Capt. Tamberneshia Willis, chief of civil law. "With the importance of the mission here and the need to be 'ready to fight tonight,' we get to see more than we normally would at a stateside base."
Judge advocates and paralegals work hand-and-hand to complete each legal case, she said.
Throughout the week, the legal office handles a variety of documentation requests such as public notaries, wills, and powers of attorney. Osan's judge advocates also offer broad advice on a number of civil matters including family issues, divorce, adoption and international marriages.
However, it's a challenge not being able to file any documentation due to Air Force instructions that govern the representation of clients by judge advocates, Willis said.
"We always get service members who need advice on civil issues; we can offer advice, but very broad advice," Willis said. "Knowing our client has a problem, and knowing we can only give minimal advice is the hardest part of being a part of the legal office."
Maj. Trinh Peterson, Osan deputy staff judge advocate, said the biggest satisfaction is helping their clients achieve personal goals.
Since Jan. 1, 2012, the base legal office has consulted and prepared approximately 300 legal documents for clients. They also prepare more than 900 state and federal taxes for customers during tax season, saving service members more than $190,000 in tax preparation costs and over one million dollars in returns for their clients.
"Places like Osan really give us opportunities to learn a lot more than we would in the civilian law world," Willis said. "On the outside, your focus is one area, but here we dabble in every area, which gives us more experience faster."
One of the biggest challenges of working in the law office is having to learn time management and research gathering, said Tech Sgt. Jacob Terry, military justice paralegal.
"We gather evidence, research Air Force instructions for each career field, talk with first sergeants and take commander recommendations for each individual case," he said. "So a lot actually goes into the case before a decision is made."
The legal office also practices operational law, which covers the Rules of Engagement and the Law of Armed Conflict during an emergency or contingency.
To be accepted as a judge advocate, members must have obtained a law degree before entering the Air Force, completed a five-week commissioning course, and graduated a nine-week military law school. Due to their amount of education and experience, new JA's enter the Air Force as first lieutenants and receive the rank of captain after six months of active-duty service.
Paralegals receive six weeks of training before assuming their position at a duty station.
"The best part of the legal office is dealing with the customers and making them happy," said Master Sgt. Graig Lemon, NCO in charge of general law. "If I get a thank you from one customer, it makes my day."