A JAG Officer’s Service and Veterans Legal Services

veterans legal servicesThe term “officer of the court” refers any person who has an obligation to promote justice and effective operation of the judicial system, including judges, the attorneys who appear in court, bailiffs, clerks and other personnel. Attorneys specifically are guided by, among other things, the Rules of Professional Conduct and are sworn to aid in the administration of justice and to act in good faith in all legal matters. Yet, JAG Officers (Judge Advocate General’s Corps, also known as JAG or JAG Corps) have the same obligation and much more.

Military lawyers are not only sworn to serve their obligations as attorneys, they are sworn “to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign or domestic,” and faithfully discharge their duties as military officers. Such a career path requires an exceptional level of commitment to one’s profession and in one’s personal life.

Capt Watson’s Path To Military Service

One such JAG Corps lawyer who has taken on such a level of service is my friend, United States Air Force Captain Kathryn “Katy” A. Watson. I recently asked Capt. Watson what her path to military service looked like.

Katy WatsonI joined the Air Force by direct appointment in January 2011 and entered active duty in March 2011.  Prior to serving in the Air Force, I served as an enlisted Automated Logistical Specialist in the Illinois Army National Guard from 2000 to 2007. In this position, I served with Bravo Company, 634th Forward Support Battalion in Champaign, Illinois, and the 33rd Brigade Combat Team in Urbana, Illinois. I graduated from the University of Illinois in 2005 with a Bachelor of Arts in political science. I graduated from the University of Illinois College of Law with magna cum laude honors in 2010.

In the Air Force, I have been stationed at Beale Air Force Base, California; Patrick Air Force Base, Florida; and now I am stationed at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. I have served as the Chief of Legal Assistance, Chief of Civil Law, Chief of General Law, Chief of Adverse Actions, and Chief of Military Justice. I deployed to Afghanistan in 2012 and served as an Assistant Command Judge Advocate for CENTCOM Joint Theater Support Contracting Command (Forward) at Camp Phoenix, Kabul. I currently serve as a Special Victims’ Counsel with the Air Force Legal Operations Agency, Community Legal Services Directorate, Special Victims’ Counsel Division (AFLOA/CLSV). In this capacity, I provide independent legal representation to, and advocacy on behalf of, sexual assault survivors during the investigation and prosecution process. 

For me and my husband, this career choice was an opportunity for us to experience the world in a way I don’t believe we could have if we stayed in one location. I’ve had an opportunity to practice different types of law in various locations alongside wonderful women and men. Whether it has been reviewing contingency contracts while deployed or presenting an argument in a court-martial, I enjoy the unique experience of practicing law while wearing the uniform.

I have had wonderful mentors and leaders and I am also afforded the opportunity to lead and mentor younger attorneys and paralegals. In addition, with each assignment being about 2 years, it is enough time to explore a new community and meet new people along the way. The Air Force is wonderful about promoting a good work-life balance so I’ve been able to take time to enjoy each location and travel back home to visit friends and family.

For me, the decision to join the Air Force JAG Corps aligns with my career and family goals. However, it may not be for everyone and requires a lot of flexibility and challenges. Prior to joining, I did a lot of research about the Air Force and the JAG Corps, and my husband and I made an informed decision. I encourage anyone who is looking for a similar path to have an understanding of their personal and professional goals and to contact me or any other military attorneys to talk about our experience and answer any questions.

Every day, within our borders and abroad, JAG Corps attorneys are serving in unique roles in the legal profession, whether in the Air Force like Katy, or the Army, Navy, Marines or Coast Guard. Their legal work comes in a wide berth of legal areas from criminal law and military discipline to operational and administrative law in support of military actions, statutes, bilateral agreements, and treaties. Their dedication to their career and their way of life is extraordinary, so it is no surprise what extraordinary people we discover serving in these roles.

Serving Those Who Have Served

There are over 20 million veterans of the U.S. armed forces. Many different access to justice barriers make it difficult, if not impossible, for veterans to have their legal needs addressed, including the various federal and state benefits they have a right to receive. The legal profession owes more than gratitude to this huge segment of our population, their families, and caregivers. These individuals must be considered when we address how and where we apply our pro bono efforts as legal professionals.

Given the considerable amount of unmet legal needs of those who have served our country, ABA President Linda Klein has announced a focus of her presidency to provide legal representation and resources for veterans and those who support them. The ABA Veterans Legal Services Initiative will be led by a 20-member volunteer commission.

ABA President Klein recently commented on the mission of the Initiative:

These are men and women who have signed a piece of paper saying they would die for us, for our country, in defense of our liberty. When our justice system fails these people, we as a profession must answer our own calls and oath on their behalf.

The Veterans Legal Services Initiative has a significant task of serving a large population in communities large and small. The Initiative will start by utilizing technology – building a comprehensive online resource to identify those in need and connect them to the proper resources and legal aid providers.

Honor Them by Serving Them

On October 8, 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued the first “Veterans Day Proclamation” which stated, in part: “In order to insure proper and widespread observance of this anniversary, all veterans, all veterans’ organizations, and the entire citizenry will wish to join hands in the common purpose.” That purpose: A celebration to honor America’s veterans for their patriotism, love of country, and willingness to serve and sacrifice for the common good.

What better way to honor and thank veterans for their service than to answer their call and provide legal services to our sisters and brothers in need.

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