CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. --
Once an Airman enters the Area Defense Counsel office, they’re greeted with a simple message: our job is to defend you.
Capt. Alexander Navarro, Air Force Legal Operations Agency Area Defense Counsel, has a knack for keeping things simple for his clients, and this is how he begins every case with those who come to him.
“We provide legal advice for anything from a Letter of Counseling rebuttal to nonjudicial punishment under Article 15 to defending Airmen at courts-martial,” Navarro said.
He couldn’t properly do his job without his paralegal partner, Staff Sgt. Leah Armstrong. Together, they form the tag-team that runs what is known as the area defense counsel.
The Judge Advocate General’s Corps, overseers of all Air Force defense counsels, has a vision of disciplined and legally-enabled Airmen and Air Force organizations who employ the law to advance the mission. What they provide to military personnel is something no other Department of Defense office can give.
Navarro explained the difference between the ADC and other units as a matter of where loyalties lie.
“Every other office or entity on base that provides services to Airmen owe a duty of loyalty to the U.S. Air Force at the end of the day,” Navarro said. “The ADC’s sole obligation, on the other hand, is to ethically and zealously represent Airmen and him or her alone. Like a chaplain, conversations with our clients are completely confidential.”
Their job is not to pass judgment—it’s to ethically help Airmen the best way we possibly can.
“Even though we wear the same uniform as other folks on base, we are completely independent and confidential,” Navarro said. “Our performance reports don’t depend on whether base leadership like us or not.”
Often, when Airmen come across corrective or disciplinary actions, it’s a blur of confusion on what they should do next. Their first response in these situations have a deep impact on how the outcome of said situation will play out, something Navarro has come to know from his years of experience in legal.
“I wish every Airman understood that military members have the right to speak to an attorney before they answer any questions from law enforcement—there is nothing wrong with invoking your Article 31 rights,” Navarro said.
Those rights, similar to the “Miranda Rights,” include the right to remain silent, have an attorney, and stop answering questions at any time, whether they are in official custody or not.
When Airmen need to speak to the ADC, they can walk into their office during normal duty hours Monday through Thursday, but can only visit via appointment on Fridays. However, for serious cases, according to Navarro, or when the Office of Special Investigations begin asking questions, either ADC member will always make time to meet with the individual under investigation.
No matter how serious, however, Airmen should feel confident knowing they’re getting the most unbiased and experienced protection when seeking help from the ADC.
Navarro commissioned through the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps and was allowed to defer to his active duty commitment to attend law school, a stark contrast to the majority of JAG officers currently in the Air Force.
“During college, I worked for my sister, who is a partner at a family law firm in Albuquerque,” Navarro said. “During law school, I interned as a second lieutenant at the Scott Air Force Base legal office. Prior to becoming an ADC, I was a prosecutor at Keesler Air Force Base for a few years.”
Now, the experienced captain has been at Cannon for over a year. His current partner in his office, Armstrong, has experienced a different path to the ADC office.
She enlisted in 2009 as a security forces defender, spending much of her time “down range,” supporting two different major commands: U.S. Air Forces in Europe-Air Forces Africa and Air Combat Command. It’s now been three years since she cross-trained, and she now has her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice.
“I have been at Cannon for just over two months and being a defense paralegal is very rewarding,” Armstrong said. “As security forces, you only really get the beginning and end of a case. If you think of a sandwich, essentially, security forces mainly get the bread—I wanted the meat and cheese! In other words, I wanted to be involved in what happened in either the prosecution or defense of a case.”
Together, the pair have combined their experience and passion in their career field to support Airmen at Cannon.
“I love my job because every Airman has worth and too often whenever a person is under investigation, he or she is alienated by everyone in their life—their friends, their unit… everyone,” Navarro said. “I take great pride in being there for that person and protecting their rights and defending them, even when they feel all hope is lost. It’s amazing how often I have a client who did nothing criminally wrong but they are facing a court-martial. It makes me work harder and getting a good result makes this job extremely rewarding.”
To contact the ADC, call (DSN) 784-2915 / (Cell) 575-784-2915 or visit them at Bldg. 600, second floor.