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Advising and reviewing; Spotlight of the 97th AMW JA Office

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Airmen of the 97th Air Mobility Wing Judge Advocate (JA) Office stand together in their unit’s courtroom, June 15, 2021, at Altus Air Force Base, Oklahoma. The team received quarterly awards from the 19th AF like: Civil Law Team, Operations and International Team and received twice the Leadership Team award (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Cody Dowell)

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U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Zachary Velez, 97th Air Mobility Wing Non-Commissioned Officer in charge of military justice, goes over the wing defense plan, June 8, 2021, at Altus Air Force Base, Oklahoma. Velez was the Air Education and Training Command Paralegal of the month for November 2020 and April 2021. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Cody Dowell)

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U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Darrell Thorman, 97th Air Mobility Wing civil law paralegal, hands off a privacy folder used for documents Article 15 of the Uniformed Code of Military Justice, June 8, 2021, at Altus Air Force Base, Oklahoma. Thorman was the Air Education and Training Command (AETC) Paralegal of the Month for January 2021 and received the AETC Next Generation Leadership Award for the Junior Enlisted Category for fall and winter 2020. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Cody Dowell)

Person smiles for a photo

Suzanne Waites, 97th Air Mobility Wing Judge Advocate Office court reporter, poses at her station like she would during court proceedings, June 15, 2021, at Altus Air Force Base, Oklahoma. Waites was the 19th Air Force Paralegal of the Month for March 2021. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Cody Dowell)

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Danielle Ficeli, 97th AMW Judge Advocate Office administration manager and paralegal, goes over the JA notary log, June 8, 2021, at Altus Air Force Base, Oklahoma. Ficeli was the Air Education and Training Command Paralegal of the Month for May 2021. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Cody Dowell)

person points at book.

Chris Nicolls, 97th Air Mobility Wing Judge Advocate Office discharge clerk, points to a paragraph from a book about the Uniformed Code of Military Justice, June 8, 2021, at Altus Air Force Base, Oklahoma. Nicolls won the 19th Air Force Civilian Non-Lawyer of the Year 2020 and Paralegal of the Month for February 2021. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Cody Dowell)

ALTUS AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. --

Innocent until proven guilty is the cornerstone of the courtroom for the U.S. legal system, likewise is the foundation for almost every aspect of the military. In order to operate in a legal and streamlined system the 97th Air Mobility Wing Judge Advocate Office ensures operations are executed in a proper manner.

The JA office of the base is composed of enlisted paralegals and officer attorneys who are the subject matter experts in a variety of legal matters.

“Altus AFB is Mobility’s Hometown, we are a small, but mighty legal office who represents Airmen going through training,” said Staff Sgt. Zachary Velez, 97th AMW Non-Commissioned Officer in charge of military justice. “We get a lot of new pilots and Airmen through our office that are here for training. We notarize a lot of closing documents for trainees, as well as powers of attorney for members who have family elsewhere.”

According to Senior Airman Darrell Thorman, 97th AMW civil law paralegal, the base legal office is also the first stop for many commanders and supervisors for legal guidance.

“Since a lot of our commanders and first sergeants are new to their positions, we ensure that the advice and guidance we provide sets them on the right path for all organizations they will lead in the future,” Thorman added. “Unit cohesion is easily more observable on a small base. Each member’s impact on the mission is felt, which is why significant time is invested in each member’s success.” 

JA has received multiple awards that showcase the extent of their efforts they have made throughout the year. Members of the team won the Air Education and Training Command Next Generation Leadership Award for the Junior Enlisted Category, 19th Air Force Civilian Non-Lawyer of the Year, four time AETC Paralegal of the Month, and three time 19th AF Paralegal of the Month. The team received quarterly awards from the 19th AF like: Civil Law Team, Operations and International Team and received twice the Leadership Team award. These efforts are from ensuring that their primary task of supporting the members they represent is handled accordingly.

“Our most important function is assisting our clients with whatever legal issue they are facing,” said Velez. “Whether it is a young Airman, retiree, or organization on base, we want to ensure their legal needs are taken care of because it enables them to refocus on their mission and supporting their families.” 

The JA office’s civil law section can assist on a plethora of personal matters for active duty members and their dependents; reserve and guard members while they are in Title 10 status and their dependents; retirees and their dependents; civilians who are deploying; and anyone else with staff judge advocate permission. In addition to assisting commanders, first sergeants, supervisors, JA assists partner agencies such as the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response, mental health, Drug Demand and Reduction Program, Equal Opportunity, along with multiple base, local and federal law enforcement.

“Our office is the key focal point for ensuring all matters dealing with good order and discipline are fully investigated, analyzed, and researched in order to provide timely courses of action for commanders’ and first sergeants’ decision-making,” said Thorman. “Early engagement affords quick action to be taken for not only key decision makers, but the members who will face disciplinary actions to allow the unit to quickly return focus to normal operations while caring for the Airmen.”

The services provide are a prime testament for the Air Force’s Judge Advocate General’s Office to support the Air Force, commanders, and Airmen with professional, full-spectrum legal support, at the speed of relevance, for mission success in joint and coalition operations.

“Military justice actions occurring on a smaller base like Altus are easily felt across the wing and can detract from unit cohesion and mission accomplishment,” said Thorman. “However, ensuring all actions are dealt with early, timely, and correctly minimizes the amount of interruption to the mission and unit cohesion and allows our limited resource (personnel) to get back into the fight. This has a positive impact not only on our base, but on the mission/operations we provide to the bigger Air Force.”

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