LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (October 31, 2003) – “JAG” may be an exciting, popular TV show, but many Arkansans may not realize that in real life those Staff Advocate Judges’ (JAGs) primary mission is to take care of legal matters for the families of their unit’s personnel. The recently deployed members of the Arkansas National Guard’s 39th Infantry Brigade are leaving their loved ones in good legal hands, thanks to a new program introduced today by the Arkansas Trial Lawyers Association (ATLA) and the Arkansas Bar Association (ABA). Known as Operation SafeKeeping, the program offers free legal services by the two legal associations to the family members of the 39th Brigade during their mobilization to Fort Hood, Texas, and their eventual deployment to Iraq.
“Our intent is to assure the members of Arkansas’ 39th Brigade that we are here for their families,” ATLA President Q. Byrum Hurst, Jr., of Hot Springs, said. “We know they have an important mission to accomplish and that they will need to be focused on the tasks at hand. Operation SafeKeeping ensures their loved ones receive free, timely legal assistance, should the need arise.”
Approximately 3,000 Arkansas National Guard members of the 39th Brigade were called to active service on October 12th. The last soldier from the 39th arrives at Fort Hood on November 2nd, completing the Brigade’s move to its mobilization station. Members of the brigade are from 47 subordinate units located throughout Arkansas.
Since Arkansas does not have an active duty Army post, the “traditional legal services support available to our brigade members’ families is limited,” according to 39th Brigade JAG, Lt. Col. John C. Edwards, the personal staff officer to the brigade’s commander. Edwards and his staff are also responsible for all legal issues for the command, including serving as advisors for the proper legal support for the family members still in Arkansas.
“Five of the six officers responsible for handling legal matters for the 39th have left or will be leaving Arkansas by Sunday, November 2,” Edwards explained. “In our absence, we want to make sure family members have access to a full-time legal team in the event a need arises. This situation paved the way for assistance from ATLA and the ABA.”
Both ATLA and the ABA have members in their organizations that currently serve or have served as members of JAG reserve units. The chairman of the Arkansas Bar Association’s Military Assistance Task Force and Veterans’ Affairs Committee is U. S. Army Reserve Brig. Gen. (Ret.) Sam Gibson, now a Benton attorney in private practice.
“We are appreciative of the free legal assistance offered by Operation SafeKeeping to our members’ families,” Edward’s added. “Through this program our members will have peace of mind knowing professionals from ATLA and the ABA are available to help if our legal assistance officer’s load becomes too heavy.”
While it is hoped that no requests for assistance will be required, the Brigade’s legal assistance officers “want to make sure the families are protected while they are deployed,” Edwards said.
“This is vital work that must be handled in the absence of the 39th Brigade,” Gibson said. “The best way we can help our troops is to make sure their families are cared for at home. We are honored and pleased to have this opportunity.”
Family members in need of legal assistance should contact the Family Assistance Center at their local armory. Armories are open from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. daily. Information regarding the after hour’s Staff Duty Officer is posted on the door of the armory. Families may also directly contact Capt. Bruce Anible, the Rear Detachment Legal Assistance Officer, at (501) 212-6702. Captain Anible will direct overflow requests on an alternating basis to ATLA and the ABA. The attorneys will address wills, powers of attorney, child support, foreclosures, contractual disagreements and such. Sergeant First Class Joyce Truitt will assist Anible with families’ legal issues.
Edwards suggested that local citizens interested in showing their support for the 39th Brigade keep them in their thoughts and prayers. Another option is to check with the Family Assistance Center for local family needs, particularly “after the troops have been gone for several months,” he added.
The Arkansas Trial Lawyers Association (ATLA), founded in 1963, is an affiliate of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America in Washington, D.C. ATLA was established in order to advance the administration of justice while upholding and improving the adversary system and preserving every citizen's access to trial by jury. Through continuing legal education programs and publications, ATLA serves its membership by providing training in all fields and phases of advocacy. The association is a volunteer organization with a statewide membership of approximately 1,000 lawyers from all 75 counties and several states.
The Arkansas Bar Association is a voluntary, statewide organization with about 4,700 members. The Association participates in a variety of programs and legal services for the legal profession and for the state. Among its purposes are the advancement of the administration of justice and the fostering among its members of high ideals of integrity, learning and public service.