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Judge advocates enable leaders, warfighters

  • Published
  • By Jodi Ames, Headquarters Air Mobility Command Public Affairs

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. -- What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Air Force legal teams?

It’s a safe bet most Airmen associate judge advocate teams with courts-martial, non-judicial punishment and legal troubles.

While military justice is certainly in the realm of responsibilities legal teams are charged with carrying out, Air Mobility Command’s staff judge advocate recently shed some light on the diverse aspects of the judge advocate’s role and how JA contributes to AMC’s mission of executing Rapid Global Mobility.

Col. Michael Vecera, deputy staff judge advocate for AMC, said courts-martial represent only a fraction of what the job entails.

“In reality, the vast majority of our personnel in uniform are high-quality Airmen doing great things for our Air Force,” he said. “We certainly work with leaders to maintain discipline, but courts-martial and other serious disciplinary matters represent a small percentage of our Airmen.”

So, what other services does a MAJCOM-level judge advocate provide?

First and foremost, it’s important to note that AMC’s leadership and headquarters staff are the principle clients for the staff judge advocate. Considering this, the judge advocate’s primary mission as a powerful force enabler is to advise leaders and directorates on a wide array of topics, including ethics, acquisitions, fiscal requirements, laws, regulations and operations.

“You name it,” said Col. Jeffrey Palmer, AMC staff judge advocate. “We provide command advice on any topic or issue that comes up.”

This advisory role provides leaders with counsel, which helps navigate complex challenges and guide decision-making. The legal advice provided by AMC’s JA team not only arms Airmen with sound guidance, it also allows them to assess risks, Palmer explained.

“Ultimately, it’s up to our leaders and our directors to make the final call on the way ahead, but our primary goal is to research the legal aspects of a situation and present all of the alternatives available in order to make the best decision for the Air Force,” Palmer said.

From an international standpoint, Palmer and his team play a key role in working with other countries to secure clearances that impact AMC missions all over the world.

Whether it is facilitating agreements regarding joint aircraft inspections, flying into allied or contested airspace or the sovereignty of state aircraft, AMC’s judge advocate team negotiates the legal aspects of clearances and requirements to make rapid global mobility possible.

In addition to advising leaders and handling international affairs, AMC’s judge advocate also oversees legal activities that fall under 18th Air Force, the U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center and all of AMC’s subordinate wings. They also ensure the delivery of legal services across the command.

While this functional oversight role is an important part of the JA mission that requires coordination with U.S. Transportation Command, Headquarters Air Force and the Secretary of the Air Force’s general counsel, Palmer said the best part of his job is the overall client -- the Air Force.

“We have the best client in the world,” Palmer said. “I think I speak for this entire staff when I say it is with great pleasure that we serve the Air Force.”

Having spent time as a civilian prosecutor, Vecera agreed, comparing his experience on the outside to serving as a military judge advocate.

“Practicing law outside the Air Force often deals with money and personal interests,” he explained. “Serving the Air Force is so different. It is such a pleasure because we work with motivated Airmen who have the best interest of the organization in mind, and we get to move the mission forward every day.”