Story by Amn Shelby Pruitt on 07/24/2019Despite the Air Force's strong ethics and strict set of rules, Airmen aren't immune to making mistakes. The Air Force has multiple methods of correcting behavior and pushing personnel to be the best they can be but, as humans, slip ups still occur. The Area Defense Counsel is there to guide Airmen in trouble through these tough circumstances.
"Our main job is to protect our member's rights and defend them whenever they receive any admin actions, or are currently under investigation for an accusation/offense," said Senior Airman Brenden Enriquez, a defense paralegal with the Air Force Legal Operations Agency/ADC.
The ADC is a full-spectrum resource, implemented in 1974, to help Airmen through the lowest level paperwork, such as a letter of counseling or a letter of reprimand, up to the most serious court martial cases.
"We're defenders; but that's so much broader than just the courtroom," said Capt. Matthew Blyth, a defense attorney with the Air Force Legal Operations Agency/ADC. "We are here to be allies and experienced advocates for Airmen who are going through a tough spot and may have gotten in trouble."
The Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph ADC is located in the basement of building 399, room B40, and operates on an appointment-based system from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday through Friday. To make an appointment, call 210-652-2274.
Upon arrival at the ADC, an intake sheet is completed requesting background information on the matter, including documents pertaining to it. Airmen will meet with Enriquez or Blyth to discuss their dispute and be helped through it.
"We take the time to explain the processes for each type of subject. Then we go over multiple different scenarios on how to properly respond or go about the case," Enriquez said. "We will send a template for them to create a draft rebuttal and send back to us to review and edit."
When an Airman is facing discipline, one of the biggest concerns is the uncertainty of the situation. With the ADC's expertise, the fear of what's going to happen' can be greatly diminished.
"We don't tell people what to do, we give advice," Blyth said. "One of the reasons that advice is so valuable is because most of the cases that come through the door are variations of something we've seen before, so we can tell you what you're facing, the likely outcome, and your options."
In addition to the uncertainty, ADC personnel sense a trend that Airmen are hesitant to seek their services in fear of repercussions from their chain of command.
"On purpose, the ADC is set up to be independent of any local chain of command so our sole job is to work for the client, not their commander, first sergeant or supervisor," Blyth said. "I can't be ordered to disclose anything that happens in this office. Conversations with the client are protected, so we can talk through issues and no one in your leadership ever has to know that you were here."
On average, Airmen who go to the ADC for assistance receive better results than if they don't engage with the ADC.
"Nothing will ever get worse by coming through this door, we can only help you," Blyth said.
Although there are usually positive results when working with the ADC, "winning" cases depends on the case's circumstances.
"That's part of the individualized service," Blyth said. "Winning looks different for every person. When our clients come in, we assess what they want out of this, what they think is a good result for themselves."
In addition to the expertise the defense counsel at the ADC possess, their training and experience are credited for their success.
"Area Defense Council has to be certified. They have to have a certain amount of trial work and get certified by the Air Force Judge Advocate General that we are competent to do things on their own," Blyth said. "In addition to the State of Texas bar rules, I operate under the Air Force JAG ethics and professional responsibility rules. Within those limits, I do everything I can to be an advocate for our client."
As member of the JAG Corps, Blyth has had the opportunity to work in multiple different sections of the military justice system.
"Being able to see things from each of those sides has great value and each contributes to the other," he said. "I was a better special victim's counsel because I had been a prosecutor, I'm a better defense council because I've been the other two. The wide range of experience can be helpful because you see a different perspective and it provides a broader understanding of the military justice process."
For Blyth and Enriquez, working at the ADC is special and rewarding.
"I love the job because I think the function is really important. It's very rewarding to help someone take a career-threatening situation and be able to learn lessons and move on to continue to contributing to the Air Force," Blyth said. "We don't want to lose good Airmen who can continue to help the Air Force if we don't have to, so we're trying to find the best outcome that can help our client keep pressing forward with their careers."
The duty has provided Enriquez with a change of perspective on the Air Force and its Airmen.
"I think it's very fulfilling because, in order to become a defense paralegal, you have to start in the prosecution side. I've seen a lot of members get discharged or get paperwork, and from doing that, I used to have the assumption that they must be a bad Airman. Working in ADC has enabled me see the whole picture, that sometimes Airmen make mistakes, have a lapse of judgement or are wrongly accused. It's gratifying to see fair justice be served to some of our Airmen that are innocent."
Blyth wants to express how important it is for Airmen to know what the ADC is and for them to feel comfortable asking for help.
"We're allies. They shouldn't hesitate to reach out. If we are able to provide you our services, we'll help you," he said. "If we can't, we can point you to someone who might be able to. That little bit of support can be a difference maker for people."
ADCs only serve active duty, Guard or Reserve Airmen. Other branches of the military have parallels to the service.
JBSA-Lackland ADC: 210-671-2924
JBSA-Fort Sam Houston ADC: 210-221-9679
JBSA-Randolph ADC: 210-652-2274
Trial Defense Services: 210-295-9742
Soldier Legal Services for non-criminal adverse actions: 210-221-2282
If stationed at a command, contact Marine Corps Recruit Depot (MCRD): 858-577-1838 or 858-577-1720
If not stationed at a command, contact: 619-556-7539
Naval Air Station (NAS) Corpus Christi 361-961-3659 or 361-961-3765 for non-criminal adverse actions.
The Coast Guard does not offer legal services.