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What’s it going to be, Airman?

Master Sgt. Kellie Ford, 60th Air Mobility Wing, Office of the Staff Judge Advocate superintendent, shares some insight from her career in the legal career field. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. James Hodgman)

Master Sgt. Kellie Ford, 60th Air Mobility Wing, Office of the Staff Judge Advocate superintendent, shares some insight from her career in the legal career field. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. James Hodgman)

TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – Working with commanders and first sergeants as it relates to legal affairs, I found three things to be true: they need avenues to help their people be ready, be outstanding, or be out-processing.

Being ready encompasses being ready for death (wills), preparing for deployments or long absences (powers of attorney), proactivity in fundraising or contracts (legal reviews), and even transitions in life circumstances (notaries).

The last two avenues, however, have to be among the weightiest decisions laid on the shoulders of leadership. They inevitably vouch for the future performance of their unit with a stroke of a pen. Many do not see it that way, but let me explain.

When I first became a paralegal, I didn’t think the options we gave to senior leaders were all that important. If a service member needed a will, come during will appointment times. If a they did something wrong, punish them. That was the small thinking I had as a young Airman. I tactically processed decisions, yet didn’t give any consideration to what those decisions inevitably could change for the person or the unit.  

Having drafted over 3,000 power of attorneys and processed countless Article 15s and courts-martial, I’ve observed the domino effects of the decisions commanders make. When deciding to give an Airman an Article 15, a commander often remembers the outstanding performer he or she saw last month and may want to give that Airman another chance to bounce back from a mistake. When an Airman does something reprehensible, their commander may be less forgiving and ensure that Airman is prepared for separation or discharge from the service.

These decisions are not made lightly. Now, as a senior noncommissioned officer in the room when these decisions are made, I see the heaviness of having lives in your hands. I recognize our leadership want our Airmen to be everything the Air Force needs while ensuring their decisions are aligned with protecting our most valued asset – our people.

So, the next time an Airman needs a last-minute power of attorney, gets an Article 15 for underage drinking, or gets a discharge for drug abuse, rest assured your legal office will equip the commander to ensure that Airman can be one of three things: be ready, be outstanding, or be out-processing.