What’s it really like for a Duke Law student to serve with the military legal community? In their words… (Part II)

This is the second part of our series about the four Duke Law students who were competitively-selected for intern/externships with the military legal community this past summer.  (Part I is found here) As I mention in Part I, they worked with uniformed lawyers (judge advocates called “JAGs”) and civilian attorneys, along with paralegals and support personnel, to serve commanders and troops in the armed forces.

Today’s essay is co-authored by Riley Flewelling and Katie Retzbach. I find their observations fascinating, and I think you will too!

Ms. Flewelling

When Riley was selected for the program last February, here’s what she said:

“I am incredibly excited for my summer externship with the Air Force JAG Corps! I came to law school out of a desire to do meaningful public service, so I am thankful for the opportunity to pursue this passion in my first summer. My father’s own Air Force career definitely influenced my decision to apply. He is an incredible leader and has always attributed this to the mentorship he experienced early in his time in the service. 

I find the JAG Corps appealing because I am seeking a legal career filled with diverse experiences and challenges. Every Judge Advocate I have interacted with speaks with passion about the wide breadth of issues they get to tackle. The enthusiasm they all have for their work is infectious, and I am looking forward to soaking up as much as I can this summer!”

So did the experience live up to her expectations?  It seems so…

I had an incredible time externing with the 316th Wing Legal Office at Joint Base Andrews. My first morning, I was fortunate to attend an officer development meeting where our SJA discussed what leadership looks like as a JAG and how to effectively advise commanders. This leadership-oriented thinking was part of what drove me to the externship in the first place, and it set the tone of the next six weeks.

Andrews is a busy base, and the legal office is no exception. Right away, I was tasked with drafting legal assistance directly for clients and developing internal work product for our staff paralegals. My supervisor was the Chief of Military Justice, so she made sure I had opportunities to work on justice projects as well. I attended a security forces interview, drafted specifications (charges) and case legal reviews, and attended briefings of all sorts, including a briefing for the Vice Wing Commander on all open justice cases.

The team at the 316th also knew I was interested in operational law, and they worked to find experiences to touch specifically on that interest. Some other highlights included attending a federal sentencing hearing; celebrating a paralegal’s re-enlistment at the Air Force Memorial, attending farewell celebrations; and participating in “murder boards,” where the office provided feedback on officers’ opening or closing statements.

I could write pages about the fantastic office culture. The officers, paralegals, and civilians all offered individual advice and insight on what a career as a Judge Advocate looks like day in and day out. The captains in the office gave me course recommendations for school, intel on places to check out in DC, and honest advice regarding which bases were best for the areas of law I was most interested in. Our SJA and DSJA genuinely cared about my input and thoughts, and they each set aside time for my questions.

There were a few small frustrations: I never gained access to the DoD office network, and I was stuck using paper visitors passes to get on base. However, they did not impede the experience. The culture of leadership I noticed the first day pervaded every level of the office, and I am incredibly thankful for the connections I made. I only wish I had been there longer! 

Ms. Retzbach

Katie also shared with us her expectations about an internship with the Air Force.  Last February she said:

I have always had an interest in national security issues and a passion for public service, so I am excited to learn more about the JAG Corps and the services they provide to Airmen and their families. 

After General Dunlap’s Wintersession course and speaking with JAG attorneys, the Air Force JAG Corps internship seemed like the perfect place to spend my summer. I am looking forward to learning more about the legal aspects and challenges of military operations and getting hands-on experience with trial preparation and litigation. I am excited to be exposed to a wide range of legal issues and exploring a future career in public service!”

Let’s hear how the summer went for Katie:

I spent my summer as an Air Force Legal Extern at Joint Base Andrews and Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington, D.C. I was responsible for drafting legal reviews for Commanders, researching vaccine mandate issues, and helped with legal assistance for Airmen and their families.

I was exposed to the abundant opportunities available in the JAG Corps through briefings in military justice, operations law, civil law, and more. I was also able to rotate through different offices on the base and spent time with the Victim’s Counsel, Area Defense Counsel, the 11th Wing legal office, and the Air Force District of Washington Commander’s Staff Judge Advocate office.

My group of interns also had the opportunity to tour the United States Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces. We spoke with Chief Judge Kevin Ohlson, who told us about the history of the court, the types of cases on his docket, and his judicial philosophy.

I am so thankful for the opportunity to spend a summer with the Air Force JAG Corps. My summer was exciting and challenging, and I was thrilled to be exposed to many diverse and substantive matters early in my legal career.

About the Authors:

Riley Flewelling is a 2L at Duke University School of Law. She is a part of the dual degree program at Duke, working towards both a JD and an LLM in International and Comparative Law. Riley is a Vice President for the National Security Law Society, a Pro Bono Director for the Duke Immigrant and Refugee Project, and a Staff Editor for the Duke Law Journal. She also serves on the staff for the Duke Center for Law, Ethics, and National Security. In her free time, Riley enjoys reading, running, and cooking.

Katie Retzbach is a second year student at Duke University School of Law. Prior to law school, Katie attended the University of Alabama where she earned a business and political science degree. At Duke, Katie is the Social Chair for the Duke Bar Association, the Vice President of ESQ for the Business Law Society, a LEAD Fellow, a Staff Editor for the Duke Journal and of Comparative and International Law, and works with the Duke Immigrant Refugee Project.

As I said in Part I, I am very proud of these young lawyers-to-be who not only stepped up to the challenge of having an internship unlike that of their classmates in many ways, but also served their country with the military this summer.  I hope you take a look at Part I (here) of this series, so you can read about Madison Dunbar and Maddie Cash who also served their country by working with the military this summer.  

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