CHARLOTTE, N.C. –
One hundred seventy legal assistance actions valued over $25,000 were provided at no-cost to 220+ Army Reserve Soldiers and their Families by U.S. Army Reserve Legal Command judge advocates, legal administrators and paralegals during the 81st Readiness Division’s Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program in support of seven commands during their pre-deployment phase from April 14-16, 2023.
This was the 81st RD’s second in-person event, with three judge advocates and two paralegals of the 134th Legal Operations Detachment supporting the legal services team. Norris Thomas, Army Reserve retiree and 81st RD Yellow Ribbon Program manager, deployed three times during his military service. He shared his first deployment was in 2003 to Iraq, and at that time, opportunities to meet with legal advisors prior to deployment were slim, and learning about available resources and family programs were by word of mouth.
“It’s not only important to have legal support here, but a lot of Soldiers and people in general, they don’t do wills or powers of attorney. It’s definitely a good thing before they deploy but also for the future,” said Thomas. Many first-time clients learned of these free legal services at the YRRP to support Army Reserve Soldiers and their dependents.
Receiving quality legal support within the Army Reserve community was especially valuable for Soldiers that are mobilizing or deploying for the first time and leaving behind young families. One such attendee was Mrs. Ashanti Barber, wife to Spc. Malik Barber, a Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear (CBRN) specialist. This is their first time as a family experiencing the deployment process, as Spc. Barber leaves his wife and their young son to deploy overseas.
“It’s a bit surreal,” she shared. “You think about doing wills for your parents, but doing it for yourself is different-- Having to make those executive decisions of who will take care of our little one if something happens to us… This will be our first deployment and it was our first time doing a will. It was very thorough and professional,” said Barber.
Maj. Caleb Rogers, son of an Army veteran and officer-in-charge of the 134th LOD legal assistance team, shared the benefits of having the servicemember’s partner participate in the YRRP. “Even with the folks we helped today, they always have legal needs that they don’t realize they have. I met with several clients and they wanted a simple power of attorney. You ask a few questions, and ‘oh, maybe I do need a will. You mean my wife can get a will also?’ A lot of it is addressing and identifying needs they have and maybe we can’t fix everything here, but it puts it on their radar, and they can go home and reach out to us again. That’s the biggest benefit.”
Staff Sgt. Nicole Corley, paralegal of the 134th LOD and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Haydis Gutierrez Padin, legal administrator of the 81st RD, supported the legal assistance team in checking in clients, escorting them to their judge advocate attorney, and being their go-to in executing powers of attorney and acting as witnesses for legal actions on the spot.
“It’s humbling to see families here,” shared Corley. “I’m sure they are going through a lot mentally and physically trying to prep for their upcoming events, so it’s nice when they are here together and can hear directly from the legal team on any concerns.”
Another high demand area of legal expertise was how to communicate with landlords and employers about deployment. 81st RD’s paralegal specialist, Mrs. Angela Moore explained, “We provide examples of letters to present to their landlord with their deployment orders. We also provide Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) information-- You had a job when you left, you should have a job when you come back; and if you don’t, you’ll know who to contact for your rights in general. We also provide information for reduction of interest rates for creditors in accordance with the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA).”
Maj. Diara Giles, special victims’ counsel and team chief of the Charlotte legal assistance team, 134th LOD, shared how receiving legal assistance within the Army Reserve provides community and understanding from one Soldier to another. “Each of us as servicemembers, we bring not only our expertise, but we bring ourselves to this particular work. No matter what’s happening in their civilian lives or family or work, we try to execute our best in the Army Reserve and hope that what we’re doing is going to help the servicemember and their dependents presently and down the road. I’m always excited to do these types of events. It just always brings back to mind the importance of the work that we all do as Army Reserve Soldiers. I definitely enjoy it and glad to be of service.”
Learn more about the YRRP and register for an upcoming event at https://www.yellowribbon.mil/. Submit requests for legal assistance to your local LOD at https://www.usar.army.mil/Commands/Functional/Legal-Command/Legal-Resources/request-for-legal-assistance-info/.