JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. —
Making career mistakes is common; some are minor and can be fixed with a little tape while others can be detrimental enough to result in financial setbacks or physical impairments.
Military members have the unique concern of what legal repercussions may occur when a mistake is made.
As members of the U.S. Air Force, Airmen are given access to the Area Defense Counsel, a team of Airmen lawyers, to help them with their legal needs.
“We represent Airmen for any of kind negative action taken against them from anything as little as a [letter of counseling] to a court-martial,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Kasey Hawkins, Air Force Legal Operations Agency Area Defense Counsel.
Hawkins said the majority of the Airmen they provide assistance to don’t call for help until after they have been read their rights for the first time.
“Service members are told about us in the First Term Airman's Center,” said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Michele Stroud, Air Force Legal Operations Agency defense paralegal. “It’s a resource that people think they won’t ever need until they need it.”
Stroud said she wants Airmen to understand that the ADC staff is available for every uniformed Air Force personnel, from an [airman basic to a general.] The ADC not only represents Airmen in a court of law, but they also help with responses to progressive disciplines such as a written counseling or non-judicial punishment.
“There’s a lot of mentorship involved,” said Stroud. “If they are coming in here, then that means they might need assistance with something in the military that they are not grasping, either something that they did or something they've been wrongfully accused of doing.”
The ADC will fight for their clients and will do what’s in their power to get the best possible outcome.
Hawkins said part of their role in taking preventative measures is taking an Airman with a paper trail of counseling for the same reoccurring incident and having a serious talk with them about if they really want to stay in the Air Force or not.
“There is a reason we are called counselors at law,” said Hawkins. “Sometimes you have to put your counselor hat on even though I’m not a psychiatrist or psychologist.”
All Airmen have a base level of what is expected of them. At Joint Base MDL, each rule and expectation is set to maintain the flow and successful outreach of rapid global mobility. Interrupting the cycle by the smallest means such as being consistently late can cause negative ripple effects to other parts of the working chain and can cause progressive disciplinary action to be taken against the individual.
There is not always an understanding of the possible impacts of disciplinary paperwork. Airmen who receive progressive discipline have the option to respond to it whether it’s a written statement of understanding or an objection against it. The ADC exists to walk them through that process.
“The problem is they don’t know the system, they may not understand the process and they don’t know what the investigators know,” said Hawkins “I am an attorney. My job is the law. Let me explain the process to you, let me explain what’s going to happen and let me do the research. Let [the ADC] walk with you through it so that you’re not on your own.”
Members of the ADC tailor the defense to the intentions, the personalities and the motivators of the Airman behind each case, and work around the clock to ensure justice to all.
“My job, at the very fundamental level, is to represent the best interest of my clients, and my clients are Airmen,” said Hawkins