By Airman 1st Class Alexis Christian
21st Space Wing Public Affairs
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — Airmen at the 21st Space Wing Judge Advocate office, Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, served 3,200 clients and produced 5,600 legal documents last year.
With the 21st SW being the most geographically distributed wing in the Air Force, and Peterson AFB being the home of North American Aerospace Defense Command, the legal office here supports more than just the Airmen on this base.
“We support strategic partners on Peterson AFB, Thule Air Base, Greenland, Cheyenne Mountain Air Force Station, and retirees in the area,” said Capt. Kevin Mitchell, 21st SW Judge Advocate chief of civil law. “Last year we provided $778,825 worth of legal assistance.”
The JA office provides assistance by notarizing documents, reviewing articles 15, conducting court martials and giving legal advice to those that are eligible among other things.
Although JA prioritizes its cases, the staff still tries to make sure they can help everyone, said Mitchell. This includes outreach to members of the community and local instillations so everyone who is eligible for legal services has access to them.
“Something we want to do before everyone starts changing duty stations this year is visit one of the retirement homes and see if they’ve had anyone come out and offer legal services to them,” said Mitchell.
“We want to make sure our retirees are taken care of, and a lot of them at this home can’t really make the drive out to Peterson AFB so we are coming to them.”
Trips like these are just a fraction of the work encompassed by JA.
“There’s a lot that goes into what we do that people don’t see,” said Mitchell. “We try to focus on preventive law to keep ahead of the curve.”
In December, Mitchell went to Thule AB to help train individuals on how to notarize documents. He said they wanted to make sure that members stationed there had access to notaries in case there were any documents that would need notarization in the future.
“We are also building a great relationship with the El Paso County Bar Association,” said Mitchell. “We want to teach them how to better serve military members, so they are now able to get military specific training at our quarterly meetings.”
JA consists of different branches including civil and general law, which deals with traffic reviews, fundraising reviews, real estate claims and liability waivers.
The adverse action and military justice portion of JA are what most people imagine when they think of the legal office, said Mitchell. Military justice handles court martials and giving commanders guidance, while adverse action takes care of articles 15, demotions and discharges.
“This is nothing like the movies,” said Senior Airman Mark Brownlee, 21st Space Wing JA civil law paralegal.
Most of the time when you see a court martial that’s just a small portion of the work that’s been done, said Mitchell.
“They are actually the culmination of 10 to 12 weeks of work and then there’s another six to eight weeks of work closing it up,” said Mitchell.
The work isn’t easy, said Mitchell, and it’s not all done by the attorneys. The paralegals in the office offer a lot of help.
“Court martials don’t just happen, and paralegals like Airman Brownlee do a vast majority of the work setting those up.”
Paralegals assist with legal reviews and help draft memos that the attorneys will then look over before sending it up, said Brownlee.
“I started a degree in criminal justice before joining, so there’s a passion for all of this already there,” said Brownlee. “I love getting to help people.”
But there are some things that paralegals can’t do.
“I can’t give legal advice,” said Brownlee. “I’ll have friends call me up and ask me a question and I just have to tell them I can’t answer that but you can come in and speak to someone.”
JA staff can’t help with everything that people bring to them, but those moments when they can help service members and their families mean a lot, said Mitchell.
“We kind of talk about our job in terms of ‘Do the best you can,’ but there are some days when you have real victories, where you can really help that person,” said Mitchell. “I’ve had people burst into tears because we were able to help and relieve some of the stress they felt.”
The biggest issue they may face with helping others is timing, said Mitchell.
“Be proactive,” said Mitchell. “People have things they want to do, and they can, but it has to be done a certain way. We need time to work on things because court martials and anything with a deploying member takes precedence. At the end of the day we want to help everyone, but it’s important to prioritize everything to get the mission done first.”
To contact base legal for assistance call 719-556-4871 or visit Building 350.