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Paralegal career field offers challenges but vast rewards

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Michael Voss
  • 435th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
Providing legal advice and a full range of legal service support to all Air Force commanders, service members, retirees and their families located in the Kaiserslautern Military Community is the mission of the Ramstein legal team.

The Ramstein Law Center is the largest Air Force law center in Europe servicing the 435th Air Base Wing, 86th Airlift Wing, 521st Air Mobility Wing and associated tenant units. In U. S. Air Forces in Europe, they operate the largest tax program and the busiest international law section within theater.

To get the job done, military attorneys rely heavily on one of the most demanding and challenging career fields in the Air Force -- paralegals (5J0X1).

A team of 19 paralegals is led by the 435th Air Base Wing Law Center Superintendent Senior Master Sgt. Michael Gadson. Sergeant Gadson brings the team together to accomplish the mission relying heavily on his more than 25 years of Air Force experience, twenty of them as a paralegal.

Sergeant Gadson has seen a lot of changes in the Air Force and the paralegal career field during his career, to include the change to accept non-prior service Airmen for entry into the career field in October 2002. Before this, a recruit had to serve in another specialty for a time in the Air Force, and then apply to re-train into the paralegal career field. But what hasn't changed is the level of individual commitment displayed Air Force-wide by the 958 paralegals currently in the career field.

"This is one of the most challenging yet rewarding jobs to have in the Air Force," Sergeant Gadson said. "When I retrained 20 years ago from being an information manager, I was looking for a change of pace. I knew I always had an interest in the law and the paralegal career field has provided me a first-hand opportunity to see the legal process from beginning to end."

Servicemembers who find themselves stationed at Ramstein as a paralegal can expect to be assigned to one of three main divisions that make up the law center: military justice, general, or international law and German claims. International law and German claims is primarily manned by four German civilian paralegals and a German attorney.

"No two days are the same and that's what I like about it," said Tech. Sgt. Jake Wolf, 435th Air Base Wing paralegal. The nine and half-year Air Force veteran explained that after six years of being an F-15 crew chief, he simply wanted a change of pace, a job in a better environment and better hours.

"Sure, I miss many of my friends in my old job, but I would not go back," said the Brownington, Vt., native. "There really is something interesting and a certain amount of satisfaction that comes from participating in the military justice system."

But there is more to the paralegal career field than just military justice, and some find their niche in other specialized areas such as the Air Force Claims Service Center, Air Force Defense Division, Acquisition Field Support Center, Environmental Law Field Support Center, Air Force Trial Judiciary, enlisted court reporter, or serving as an instructor at the Judge Advocate General's School.

A young Air Force Paralegal assigned to the Ramstein Law Center general law division may prepare and notarize powers of attorney; investigate claims and write inspection reports; prepare administrative discharges and record board hearings; do legal research and writing; draft legal reviews; prepare court-martial cases; act as recorders for aircraft accident investigations; and brief the Law of Armed Conflict, to name a few.

"I love it so far (talking about being an Air Force paralegal)," said Airman 1st Class Amber Green, 435th Air Base Wing paralegal. She entered the Air Force a little more than two years ago "open general." "I could have been a cop or in finance," said the O'Fallon, Ill., native. "But I happened to see the 5J career description and I was lucky enough to be chosen as a paralegal."

"It offers so much, I enjoy the justice side of it but I think general law is where I fit," said the Airman from O'Fallon, Ill.. "I like being able to help people recover some money for their things that may have been damaged."

From talking to the paralegals here at Ramstein, it is clear they are a dedicated group of Airmen from the most senior to the youngest. Many have recently PCS'd here and started working right away.

"I was stationed at Maxwell AFB, Ala., and PCS'd here last week," said Senior Airman Amanda O'Hara, 435th Air Base Wing paralegal. "The paralegal career field is small enough that you are pretty much guaranteed to know someone and that helps you get started right away. Although this is a busy office, I look forward to the challenge," said the Charlotte, N.C., native.

"These are exactly the motivated, self-starting Airmen that make the Air Force paralegal career field so respected," Sergeant Gadson said. "We are always looking for interested people. The process isn't easy and the technical school curriculum is challenging but the rewards are great."

Upon selection, initial enlistees and retrainees alike attend the Air Force paralegal course, currently six weeks at Maxwell AFB and students only get in after a lengthy interview process.

"Paralegal is an in-demand career in the civilian sector," said Sergeant Gadson. "Many paralegals continue their off-duty education, get degrees and move on to jobs on the outside of the military making up to 60 thousand dollars a year. It really depends on experience and education, but the Air Force training gives us a good start."

One thing that is evident when walking into the double doors of the Ramstein Law Center and other legal offices, whether inquiring about being an Air Force paralegal or getting your taxes filed, you are entering an office manned by dedicated professionals.

Anyone interested in more information about joining this group of professionals is encouraged to visit the Ramstein Law Center for an interview with the superintendent, or call DSN 314-480-6660/5911.