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ADC: Defending those defending freedom

U.S. Air Force Capt. Yolanda Miller (left), Capt. Joseph Wise (center), area defense counselors, and Master Sgt. Stephanie Clark (right), Area Defense Counsel paralegal, make up the ADC team. The ADC is comprised of two attorneys and a paralegal who provide legal counsel to Airmen. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Corey M. Pettis)

U.S. Air Force Capt. Yolanda Miller (left), Capt. Joseph Wise (center), area defense counselors, and Master Sgt. Stephanie Clark (right), Area Defense Counsel paralegal, make up the ADC team. The ADC is comprised of two attorneys and a paralegal who provide legal counsel to Airmen. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Corey M. Pettis)

KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- Who's on your side? Sometimes it seems like the deck is stacked against you. From Letters of Counseling all the way to Courts Martial, the Area Defense Counsel will always be on your side.

The ADC is an organization that represents Airmen in instances of legal repercussions and advises them on the legal aspects of their case and what their next move should be. In a sense, they are your defense lawyers.

"Our purpose is to provide a resource, to be a resource to Airmen who find themselves in a lot of different situations, sometimes in trouble, but not always," said Capt. Joseph Wise, Area Defense counselor. "Sometimes they just need some help, sometimes they just need someone to guide them through a situation that is totally foreign to them. It's to give that support to Airmen who need that support."

The ADC is set up to guide Airmen through the legal process of their particular situation. Many Airmen don't really know who the ADC is or what they do.

"A lot of it is to help them understand the process. Some people when they get in trouble are kind of freaking out, and many of them it's their first time getting in trouble," said Wise. "I think a lot of the clients we see aren't bad people and aren't out there committing crimes and not caring about the consequences, it's often they're caught up in circumstances or maybe it's a misunderstanding."

When Airmen go see the ADC, they have their paperwork in hand, and they sit down with the lawyers to go through all of the facts to come up with a response.

"When you get your paperwork, you draft up your own response," said Capt. Yolanda Miller, Area Defense counselor. "I think that's a unique thing that not a lot people know, especially commanders and shirts, they don't necessarily know what's written is not from us. We don't write their responses for them, they write it and we just edit it. Then we just provide them with advice, but it's really up to them what they want to tell their command."

Wise remembers a certain instance where he said the system worked exactly how he thinks it was supposed to. The Airman had violated curfew and received an Article 15. The Airman had multiple plans in place to get home, but at the last second decided to stay with a fellow wingman breaking curfew in order to keep themselves from doing anything to get in more trouble.

"Now, that may not have been the right decision, but he came in and we were able to put together the facts and get some information from other people and put together a response that we then gave to the commander," said Wise.  "The commander was able to consider that, and adjust the punishment a little and ended up lessening it."

Although the Airman was in the wrong and broke rules, the ADC was there to help them gather the facts and give to the commander to make an informed decision.

"That's how it should happen. Our hope is that when we provide a response, it is going to an open-minded person, one that will read it, think about it and then begin to decide what they're going to do," said Wise.

The ADC works on base and work for the Airmen, but they don't follow the same chain of command as most do. Their chain goes from the shop to regional commands to Washington D.C.

"The reason why we aren't connected to a base is because it's in the best interest of our clients," said Miller. A lot of the action comes down from the wing commander or squadron commander, so if we were tied and invested in this base, then we would be tied and invested to people who are making adverse decisions against our clients. In this way we can act independently, we can go out and advocate to the fullest extent without worrying about who is evaluating us."

The ADC, while helping Airmen sort through the legal aspects of their defense, are also vital to the mission in the sense that they calm their stress and help with resiliency.

Airmen sometimes get caught up in a situation, and when they go to the ADC they are extremely stressed, especially if this is their first situation. Who can actually function when they're under that much stress?

"So when they come in to us and we have this conversation with them and we break down the process things become clearer," said Miller. "I think we set them up to be in a position to where they can do their job because anybody who's stressed can't really go forward and do their proper work, which affects the Air Force mission."

The biggest priority for the ADC is helping Airmen sort out their situation, but Miller stresses the importance of not breaking the rules to begin with.

"We try not to be just a reactive office, people come to us because something has already happened," said Miller. "We also try to be preventive in nature. When a client comes in, I have no problem giving them that serious, sit down, and let me have a conversation with you because you need to stay out of trouble. That to me is just as important as reacting to a piece of paper."

Planning ahead of time is the key. Miller and Wise, though they love helping people, would rather not see them come back in with more trouble to sort out.

"Just think forward," said Miller. A lot of our young Airmen, they live in that moment, and they don't really plan foreword, or execute a very good plan. As long as they don't come back and see me, I feel like I've accomplished my job in that sense."

The ADC likes to say that no matter what, they're on your side, even when it looks like nobody else is. In a lot of ways, it is like the chaplain. Their mission is ensuring the well-being of Airmen and whatever you say, stays there.  

When Airmen come into the ADC office, the attorneys are going to tell their clients what they think and what the law says, but in the end, the Airmen will make their own decision, but it does not leave the room. It is a secure place where attorneys and Airmen can have open conversations about what is in the Airman's best interest.

"If I were to have anybody know two things about us it would be that we are completely independent and when you come talk to me it stays there," said Wise.