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Home : News : Features : Display
NEWS | July 15, 2014

Area, trial defense counsels save U.S. Service members' careers

By Airman 1st Class Devin Scott Michaels 633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

U.S. Air Force Airmen are taught at Basic Military Training to live by the Air Force core values, "Integrity first, Service before self and Excellence in all we do." The Army also pledges to live by their own core values, "Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless service, Honor, Integrity and Personal courage." However, no one is perfect, and sometimes Soldiers and Airmen fall short of those principles.

When Service members find themselves in legal trouble, the U.S. Air Force Area Defense Counsel and the U.S. Army Trial Defense Service steps in to represent Airmen and Soldiers vigorously within the bounds of professional ethics.

The Army TDS is an independent unit within the Judge Advocate General's Corps and is part of the U.S. Army Legal Services Agency. The Air Force ADCs work for a separate chain of command, reporting directly to the Air Force Legal Services Agency at Washington DC. These agencies do not work for any base commanders or the staff judge advocates. The TDS and ADC's separate chains of command ensure they are not pressured by commanders to work against Airmen and Soldiers' best interests.

According to Capt. Virginia Bare, Langley AFB ADC, the Langley Air Force Base ADC is open to all Airmen for help with resolving most career-altering adverse actions,

"We can help with adverse actions that may affect an Airman's career; everything from letters of counseling to a court-martial, except medical issues, which are referred to the appropriate counsel at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio," said Bare. "If someone has been read their rights or thinks they're under investigation or they are just worried, they should call us."

The attorneys and paralegals at the Fort Eustis Trial Defense Office provide confidential legal advice to Soldiers in similar situations. U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Craig Mullis, Fort Eustis TDO paralegal noncommissioned officer in charge, said Soldiers should visit the TDO as soon as possible if they feel they are being asked questions that could incriminate them or someone else.

"A basic situation [that would call for TDS involvement] would be if at any time, a Soldier is being asked questions that could be used against them if answered," said Mullis. "According to their Article 31 rights under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, they don't have to answer any questions without talking to an attorney first [and getting advice to defend themselves.]"

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Lori Manvell, Langley AFB defense paralegal, said when Service members feel the "oh-no effect"--a shocking feeling that a situation is about to end badly--or gets the "deer-in-the-headlights" feeling, one of their first thoughts should be to speak to an attorney.

"We are on-base attorneys, and are completely free and confidential," said Manvell. "When an Airman comes in, [they're entering] a privileged environment. Everything we talk about with a client does not leave this office unless they give us permission. We can't even confirm or deny who our clients are without their consent."

TDS operates exactly the same way as described above, Mullis said.

Seeking legal advice after experiencing the "oh-no effect" helps Airmen and Soldiers more often than not, Manvell, Bare and Mullis agreed. Whether an Airman or Soldier feels they are being falsely or correctly accused, Bare and Mullis said no harm can come from seeking legal advice.
The legal professionals can help professionally oppose their paperwork or respectfully acknowledge and accept their mistakes.

"We can help write a professional response. It is not required that an Airman should write a response, but we do highly encourage it," said Manvell. "We talk to first sergeants and commanders about what they want to see in a response, and what helps them change their mind about the Airman. Submitting a professional response can help in the long run because it shows how much the Airman cares about their career."

The Army handles non-judicial punishment differently than the Air Force. Mullis said in a Soldier's case, responding to an accusation is less about writing responses and more like a miniature court hearing.

"A Soldier will meet with and present their case to their commander after receiving our help," said Mullis. "Our top priority is defending the Soldier's rights, making sure no one violates their rights under the UCMJ. We teach our clients about their rights and what the regulations say about their situation."

Due to the potential for mishaps outside of work, an Service members may have to write a statement for Army military police, Air Force security forces, the Office of Special Investigations or Criminal Investigation Department.

The ADC is available to assist any Airmen who are under investigation, to include being present during interviews, assisting with statements or keeping Airmen informed of the status of their investigation. The ADC can do more than the Airman is capable of on their own. "The first thing we do is collect all of the evidence," said Manvell. "Whatever's being used against an Airman for an adverse action, we're going to try to get all the supporting documentation. [We then advise the Airman,] ensure there is enough information to support the accusation and make sure the paperwork is written properly without any violations of the person's rights."

When the TDO helps a Soldier respond to an accusation, they equip the Soldier with the knowledge they need to defend themselves properly and professionally.

"When a Soldier comes in during walk-ins, we'll make sure all their paperwork is correct, show them an informational video about their rights, discuss with them possible actions and then see to it they talk to an attorney," said Mullis.

The ADC can provide legal advice to Airmen for the following career-altering actions:

· Administrative discharge

· Administrative demotion

· Officer grade determinations

· Letters of reprimand, Unfavorable Information Files and related matters

· Performance Report Referral responses

· Promotion proprietary actions

· Selective reenlistment program

· Accident investigations

· Safety investigations

· Officers' boards

· Flying evaluation boards

· Line of duty investigations

· Medical officer decredentialing boards

· Reports of survey

· Whistleblower protection cases

· Article 138, Uniform Code of Military Justice

· Denial/revocation of security clearance

· Subject of an Office of Special Investigations, Security Forces Office of Investigations or command investigation

However, Bare and Manvell stress to never hesitate to call.

The various categories of representation for Soldiers by the TDS fall into three basic priorities:

· Priority 1: Criminal representation at trials by court-martial is the top priority of TDS and takes precedence over all other actions.

· Priority 2: Assistance with administrative separations, actions to discharge Soldiers prior to the end of their service, non-judicial punishments and summaries for courts-martial.

· Priority 3: All other actions, including advising Soldiers of their rights as a suspect and responding to letters of reprimand. Priority 3 actions may also be handled by legal assistance attorneys, depending on the availability of TDS.

"We form relationships with the people we help," said Bare. "We always do our best for them, because we believe everyone deserves to have the best record possible."

For more information call the Langley Air Force Base ADC at 764-5607 or the Fort Eustis Trial Defense Office at 878-2064.