Importance of maintaining legal readiness

  • Published
  • By 354th Fighter Wing Legal Office
  • 354th Fighter Wing legal office
Readiness is a constant duty for all Airmen. We relentlessly train, study and prepare for the challenges, real or envisioned, that we are likely to face in our chosen fields. Unfortunately, the same rigor is often not applied to our personal matters. If you had to deploy at a moment's notice, could you answer the following questions?

· Who will take care of my children if I die?
· Who would make medical decisions for me if I am unable?
· Who will get my possessions if I die and how do I make sure they do?
· Who will take care of my bills and will they need a power of attorney?

If you don't know the answers to these questions, you may not be legally ready. Legal readiness is the degree to which Air Force members are ready to deploy in their personal capacity. Legal readiness involves awareness of personal legal issues which may arise during a deployment and the remedies available to mitigate any adverse effects.

As military members, we have agreed to be ready to deploy worldwide at a moment's notice. Contingency situations may arise that do not provide the luxury of time before a deployment to get legal affairs in order. The process ensures that those deploying are medically cleared to deploy and that they ensure their financial information is updated. However, very few think about legal readiness outside of Law of Armed Conflict training. Nonetheless, legal readiness is an important aspect of everyone's overall readiness.

"Being legally ready is extremely important," said Tech. Sgt. Alexander Puma, 354th Fighter Wing Office of the Staff Judge Advocate NCO in charge of civil law. "When I was deployed, many members had legal issues come up and were not legally ready. Issues from divorce to who is taking care of your vehicle are very important and can add to an already stressful deployment."

Many times, members show up in theater with legal issues that if thought through and brought to the attention of the home station legal office, the toll taken on the member and unit at the deployed location would have been mitigated.

When Tech. Sgt. Thalia Ruiz, 354th FW Office of the Staff Judge Advocate NCO in charge of military justice, was deployed to Joint Base Balad, Iraq, she experienced firsthand the negative effects of Airmen failing to plan ahead regarding legal readiness.

"Unfortunately, members must think of worst case scenarios when it comes to their affairs and make a plan," she said. "While it is humanly impossible to anticipate every conceivable issue that may arise while away from home, a member may be able to mitigate some issues by using a Power of Attorney, allowing someone they trust to legally take care of their affairs."

Some of the legal issues that she observed while in theater included Airmen selling a home, going through divorce, medical POAs for children, financial issues and registering vehicles.

Aside from anticipating what may happen, members must remember they are responsible for their family, finances and households while deployed. Some individuals fail to realize that when deployed these issues cannot be neglected. Though most financial institutions will work with a deployed member, one may easily find themselves dealing with an institution that is not able or willing to accommodate the member. Every member must take the time to review their finances and visualize problems may surface during an absence and plan accordingly.

Seeking legal advice prior to a deployment can help identify issues and provide solutions. Wills, POAs and healthcare directives all require consultation with an attorney and document production. Other areas such as credit reports, taxes and benefits may generate legal questions. At a minimum, members and their families should visit their local legal office to ensure all questions are answered and all documents are complete at least a couple of weeks prior to deployment.

Air Force readiness is often framed in terms of unit, mission and at times agency readiness. All of those are built on a foundation of personal, and by extension, family readiness. If distracted by personal circumstances, the focus in not on mission execution. The 354th FW Office of the Staff Judge Advocate is here to help answer your questions and ensure that you and your families are legally prepared for any deployment or emergency.