Within the walls of justice: the wide reach of Legal Office advice

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Elizabeth Schoubroek
  • 354th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

When most people think of the base legal office, their mind goes straight to PROSECUTION.

Although prosecution is one of the more visible tasks of the 354th Fighter Wing Judge Advocate (JA) office, they also handle a host of other legal issues around base in support of the Wing’s various missions.

“The fact of the matter is very few things get handled on base without legal involvement: everything from flying F-16s and F-35s to manning the snowplows on base,” said Mr. Patrick Murphy, 354th FW/JA Chief of General Law.

The JAG office consists of four sections: Leadership, Civil Law, Operations Law, and Military Justice. Each of these sections is responsible for various legal services, many of which people don’t know about.

The Leadership section does what most leadership sections do: they task, advise, and motivate their personnel to accomplish the mission.

In addition to providing basic legal services like drafting wills and powers of attorney, the Civil Law section advises command on civil law matters including environmental issues, contracts, civilian labor issues, and a plethora of other actions.

The Operations Law section plays an increasingly active role as Eielson’s mission has expanded to include Agile Combat Employment (ACE) efforts and alert activities.

The Military Justice section advises commanders on maintaining good order and discipline in their units, by providing counsel and assisting in disciplinary and rehabilitative measures.

“We administer justice, acknowledging the need to balance punishment with mercy,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Benjamin Henley, 354th FW/JA Staff Judge Advocate. “Without good order and discipline, our system fails.”

So who is responsible for defending Airmen accused of misconduct?

Many Airmen do not realize that there is a completely separate office on base responsible for defending Airmen.

“The Area Defense Counsel, or ADC, is not located in the base legal office and is not part of our staff. This helps to ensure they provide zealous representation free from any undue influence from the chain of command,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Eleanor Umphres, 354th FW/JA Chief of Litigation, Operations Law, and Investigations. “While lawyers in base legal offices perform a variety of jobs related to the mission, the ADC is solely responsible for defending Airmen.”

As the mission of Eielson Air Force Base has evolved over the last few years, so too has the mission of the Eielson Air Force Base Legal Office.

“Our attorneys and paralegals are making sure that Eielson, in every respect, is legally prepared to defend our country when called upon,” said U.S. Air Force Maj. Chase Gunnell, 354th FW/JA, Deputy Staff Judge Advocate. “I want the base to know that our office is here to help. We can provide the traditional things you associate with a legal office like legal advice and legal documents, but we can also brief squadrons on important laws and regulations that impact their specific missions. Many times people have negative associations with the legal office because of military justice; however, our office is here to help everyone succeed.”

If you are in need of legal assistance or would like for the JAG office to provide your unit with a legal brief, please call 907-377-4114 or email 354fw.ja.354fwjudgeadvocate@us.af.mil.