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Legal office: An enlisted point of view

Airman 1st Class Amanda L. Belarde, 460th Space Wing Legal Office military justice paralegal, right, and Staff Sgt. Michelle Chabot, 460th Space wing Legal Office NCOIC of military justice, look over reference material July 29, 2014, in the 460th Space Wing Legal Office on Buckley Air Force Base, Colo. Paralegals support virtually every area of the legal office, including military justice, claims, civil law, legal assistance, contracts and environmental law.

Airman 1st Class Amanda L. Belarde, 460th Space Wing Legal Office military justice paralegal, right, and Staff Sgt. Michelle Chabot, 460th Space Wing Legal Office NCOIC of military justice, look over reference material July 29, 2014, in the 460th Space Wing Legal Office on Buckley Air Force Base, Colo. Paralegals support virtually every area of the legal office, including military justice, claims, civil law, legal assistance, contracts and environmental law. (Official Air Force photo by Airmen Emily E. Amyotte/Released)

BUCKLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Whether assisting commanders and first sergeants on appropriate actions to take or providing legal counsel to Airmen and their families, the paralegals from the 460th Space Wing Legal Office play a vital role here at Buckley.

Working under the supervision of a judge advocate general, paralegals support virtually every area of the legal office including military justice, claims, civil law, legal assistance, contracts and environmental law.

Because judge advocates are all officers, paralegals provide the enlisted point of view. Their job is to give insight and knowledge to the judge advocate and advise them on what would be the best way to handle specific cases. They can tell the judge advocate how getting a stripe taken away or a reduction of pay will affect the enlisted member emotionally.

"It would be like having no first sergeants or no chiefs," said Senior Airman Jose De Jesus Sanchez IV, 460th Space Wing Legal Office general law paralegal. "JAGs are attorneys; they think of everything ethically and logically. It's really us that can relay that enlisted message to them."

The paralegals have dipped their feet in almost every aspect of the legal career field. From researching cases to drafting documents and helping victims, paralegals do it all. They also take the lead on assisting private organizations on base, fundraisers and legal reviews for frequently asked questions.

It's a highly stressful, but equally rewarding career field, said Airman 1st Class Amanda L. Belarde, 460th Space Wing Legal Office military justice paralegal.

If a certain case gets to the level of military court, the paralegals are responsible for all the behind-the-scenes work. If witnesses are needed at court, the paralegals make sure everything goes smoothly.

"Right now, we're prepping for court, and I'm flying in witnesses from every which way and making sure they all have orders and they're all funded," Belarde said.

The paralegals at Buckley are a close-knit and elite group that can work in a high-stress environment and with a high volume of work.

They are the ones who make sure the Airmen of the 460th Space Wing are doing the right thing and doing things ethically, Sanchez said. They aren't there to try and punish people; instead they try to right an Airman's wrong - to give a fair punishment for the crime that was committed and also a second chance. They care about the human being behind the uniform.

"We're people too, we make sure that you get a fair and right punishment and that you are represented," Sanchez said. "And that really, truly we care about people. That's always been the number one thing. But at the end of the day, we do our job and we do it well."
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