Misawa Wins Air Force’s Best Legal Assistance

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Leon Redfern
  • 35th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Each year the American Bar Association’s (ABA) Standing Committee on Legal Assistance for Military Personnel (LAMP) selects recipients of the ABA LAMP Distinguished Service Award. Those chosen for this award are individuals and units that set the bar for military legal assistance, by pushing themselves and their practices in extraordinary ways.

This year, the 35th Fighter Wing (FW), Office of the Staff Judge Advocate, was recognized as the Air Force’s recipient of the ABA LAMP Distinguished Service Award, at Misawa Air Base, Japan, June 28, 2022.

“The Legal Office has proven themselves to be a team of agile, resilient, and confident legal professionals,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Adam Olsen, 35th FW Legal Office staff judge advocate. “They are dedicated to supporting Misawa Air Base through innovative advancements, comprehensive outreach, and joint-service coordination to achieve operational legal readiness.”

The 35th FW Legal Office, colloquially known as the “Legal Weasels,” serves Misawa, which has a base population of more than 11,500 people and supports eight associate units from the U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force, as well as the Japan Air Self-Defense Force.

The Legal Weasels consist of a team of five attorneys, nine paralegals, and three Japanese Nationals, that operate an effective legal assistance program that prioritizes client service resulting in major legal assistance innovations.

One of the innovations created in 2021, was the Misawa MILNATZ Program, the Air Force’s first-ever overseas naturalization program and ceremony. This innovation enables candidates to complete the naturalization process remotely instead of being carried out by the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Customs and Immigrations Services (USCIS) at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo.

“After implementing this new virtual process, the Legal Office now serves as the liaison between the USCIS and the member applying for citizenship, allowing interviews to be conducted virtually with no trips required,” Olsen said. “This saves travel costs, travel time, hotel stays and all the other expenses, calculating to save families an average of $5,000 and up to six trips to Tokyo.”

The second innovation was a comprehensive, just-in-time deployment and Permanent Change of Station (PCS) guide that simplifies legal readiness for service members. The guide helps educate and assist service members to get their legal affairs in order while moving, enabling them to focus on the mission.

Additionally, with the recent launch of the Lexis Estate Planning platform, the Air Force’s new estate planning service, the Legal Weasels created a fillable worksheet that accommodates wills, living wills, and healthcare power of attorneys, for clients to submit in advance of estate planning appointments. The Legal Office shared their innovation with Air Force legal assistance offices worldwide.

“The guide we created is designed to identify issues warfighters may face prior to and during a deployment or PCS, so they can seek appropriate and timely legal advice,” Olsen said. “The fillable worksheet we also created simplifies the preparation of estate planning documents in advance of legal assistance appointments, not only saving client’s time, but preserves valuable attorney and paralegal hours.”

Lastly, the Legal Weasels developed a local marriage program that ensures all local laws and Department of Defense requirements are met, and they conduct marriage ceremonies in the legal courtroom. The process begins with helping the couple complete a marriage application, followed by a premarital briefing by attorneys at the Legal Office. The Legal Office also helps individuals complete the required affidavit and ensures that members have all necessary paperwork.

“Navigating the marriage process in Japan was one of many unique challenges service members faced in Misawa Air Base due to the remote and foreign location,” Olsen said. “Since this new development, the Legal Weasels conducted 36 marriages in 2021, ultimately resulting in improved morale and enhanced quality of life for service members.”

Overall, in 2021 the Legal Weasels accomplished service for 1,582 clients, drafted 1,668 documents and reviewed 3,499 forms, saving clients $143,270 in legal fees, with exceptional client satisfaction.

“We were recognized with this award not because of the volume of the legal assistance we provide, but the quality of the support we provided, including going the extra mile for clients and customers,” Olsen said. “The young Legal Weasel Team identified shortfalls in our support and using existing technology and building relationships, both inside and outside of the Air Force, were able to establish lasting programs that impact the quality of life for all members of Team Misawa.”