First Lt. Catherine Ricci, legal assistance attorney, advises a Soldier at the Legal Assistance Office inside Clark Hall, while Cpl. Aaron Pirwitz, paralegal, assists a client. The Fort Drum Legal Assistance team earned an Army Chief of Staff Award for Excellence in Legal Assistance (Active Army Large Offices category) for fiscal year 2020, making this the third consecutive year being recognized for superior service in legal support to the community. (Photos by Mike Strasser, Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs)
Fort Drum Legal Assistance staff earns Army award for excellence three years in a row
Fort Drum Garrison Public Affairs
FORT DRUM, N.Y. (July 9, 2021) – For the third straight year, the Fort Drum legal assistance team’s ability to provide the community with superior legal counsel has earned them Army-level recognition.
The U.S. Army Staff Judge Advocate General’s Corps announced in June that the Fort Drum Legal Assistance Office was the recipient of an Army Chief of Staff Award for Excellence in Legal Assistance (Active Army Large Offices category).
Located in Clark Hall, the staff provides free legal advice on issues ranging from family and domestic relations law, wills and estate planning to military and civilian administrative actions, property and income tax considerations, and civilian criminal matters.
“Our mission is to assist our clients with their personal legal affairs in a timely and professional manner by meeting their needs for information on personal legal matters and resolving their personal legal problems whenever possible,” said Dwight Austin, Fort Drum Legal Assistance Office chief. “The fact that we have been recognized for what we do three years in a row is directly attributable to the outstanding efforts of the entire team.”
During fiscal year 2020, the Legal Assistance Office staff supported 3,342 appointments and provided more than 7,400 client services – a total estimate of more than $1.5 million worth of legal services.
Austin said even in a year where a global health crisis put a pause on people’s everyday lives, it didn’t diminish the quality of service they provided.
“The COVID-19 pandemic presented us with some unique challenges in the past year, but we were proud that we could still support Soldiers and family members during that difficult time,” Austin said. “We were never completely closed from the time COVID-19 began. Our phones were up and operational to answer people’s calls. It worked much better than we originally anticipated.”
Austin said that the majority of appointments were conducted telephonically until face-to-face meetings could resume.
“We would be at our homes preparing wills and send them to our deputy staff judge advocate who lives on post,” he said. “So he would go into the office and meet with people to execute their wills. I think that was one of the differentiating factors that led to our success during the pandemic.”
Criteria evaluated for the award included office staffing and training plan; an assessment of the quality of legal assistance provided to clients, and efforts to better assist clients’ needs.
Although some members of the legal team representing Fort Drum have moved on to their next assignments, Austin said that they were crucial to their success.
Members of the FY2020 team included: Maj. Ryan MacGillis (special victim counsel), Capt. Amir Hamdoun (special victim counsel), Capt. Jeffery Hatfield (special victim counsel), Capt. Tanner Jameson (Tax Advisory Program coordinator), Capt. James Kemnitz (judge advocate), Capt. Joseph Roman (judge advocate), Capt. M. Oliver Shaw (judge advocate), Capt. Andrew Logan (judge advocate), Capt. Andrew Bobowski (judge advocate), Shawn Graham (attorney), Marshall Eves (legal assistant), Spc. Roberto Martinez (paralegal), and Spc. Joshua Reid (paralegal). Additionally, U.S. Army Reserve attorneys and paralegals from the 7th Legal Operations Detachment played a role in supporting the installation.
“Despite the rotation of military personnel – and it’s a fairly rapid rotation through our office – we have maintained a stability, in great part, because of the civilian foundation built into the office,” Austin said. “For the past three years we have won this award, I think the consistent foundation of civilian staff combined with the high quality of attorneys we are getting in the office is providing that stability and continuity.”
The Fort Drum Legal Assistance Office is located in Room A2-68, Clark Hall, Bldg. 10720, Mount Belvedere Boulevard. Persons eligible to receive legal assistance include all active component members of all branches of service and their family members, retirees and their family members, and certain other persons under federal law.
For more information, visit https://home.army.mil/drum/index.php/about/Garrison/office-staff-judge-advocate-osja/legal-assistance.