SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. - Films like "A Few Good Men" and "Rules of Engagement" strive to create an image of military law, equating it with the military court-martial. While courts-martial will arise from time to time in the real world, during the typical week the staff of the Shaw legal office provide their knowledge and experience in support of Team Shaw's airmen, soldiers, family members, retirees and civilian employees.
"Our mission here is to provide legal support and services to the wing and to the tenant units at Shaw," said Lt. Col. Joseph Dene, 20th Fighter Wing staff judge advocate.
"AFCENT, 9th Air Force and Third Army each have their own staff judge advocate who provides legal advice to their commander, but as the servicing legal office on base, that gives us the responsibility to provide legal services for the Shaw community," continued Dene.
The Shaw legal office has a dual role, with a mission of both supporting the leadership on base as well as the individuals who make up the base's community.
The Shaw legal office's primary client is the wing commander, whom it represents in his role as a representative of the Air Force. That same support is also extended to commanders and leaders on base in the form of advice on the Uniform Code of Military Justice, enforcing standards and addressing violations of law while ensuring fair and impartial handling. In addition, the Shaw legal office also helps leaders comply with all the regulatory and statutory requirements that apply to military units.
"JA is here in a support role. We're staff officers, which means we're here to solve problems for commanders and other leaders on the base," said Dene. "The sooner we get involved in that process, the more effective it can be."
The second role of the base legal office includes providing legal services to service members in their individual capacities, within a set range of legal problems.
"Our services are generally available to anyone with a military ID card including active duty members, dependents, Guard members on active duty orders and retirees," said Capt. Ross Brennan, chief of legal assistance. "In most cases, if you have a military ID, then you're entitled to legal assistance."
Assistance is available for powers of attorneys, wills, and notaries. Walk-ins are also available for advice on personal, civil legal matters ranging from consumer law and domestic relations to family law matters such as child custody and support.
Walk-ins are available Monday and Friday from 9-10 a.m. and Wednesday from 1-2 p.m. Notaries and special powers of attorney are available five days a week from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m Wills are available Tuesday from 1-3 p.m. by appointment only. Wills are generally the busiest of the services, and should be scheduled well in advance of an upcoming deployment. In the case of a short notice deployment, the Shaw legal office staff can generally help within a day or two.
"The Air Force legal assistance website has a lot of preventive law information," added Brennan. "There's a consumer law section, a family law section, a Service Members Civil Relief Act section; there's all kinds of good information. Additionally, our Shaw JA page has more information, including some South Carolina-specific items."
Given the intricacies of the law, the Shaw legal office provides a valuable support function that can help mitigate the problems that individuals may face.
"People who come to the office are usually stressed," said Dene. "There's a problem and they're coming to us to try and help fix it."
While assisting individuals with legal matters is a part of the Shaw legal office's primary duties, it also provides the staff an opportunity to interact with fellow service members and civilians within the Shaw community.
"Whenever you can help someone solve one of these problems ... that's where we get the most satisfaction," added Brennan.
For more information, visit the Air Force legal assistance webpage (https://aflegalassistance.law.af.mil/lass/lass.html), or the Shaw legal office page on the Shaw website (http://www.shaw.af.mil/units/judgeadvocate/index.asp).