Marine Corps Logistics Base ALBANY Ga. --
Have you ever wondered what the role of a military attorney is and why it is important to a base or command?
According to the website, http://officer.marines.com/marine/winning_battles/leadership_positions/law/judge_advocate, the role of the Office of the Staff Judge Advocate is to provide legal counsel and special assistance to commanders. An SJA acts as the chief legal advisor to commanding officers of operational units, Marine Corps bases or stations, or any of the wide range of commands that support the Marine Corps’ mission.
Lt. Col. Alex Ray, Staff Judge Advocate, MCLB Albany, said as the SJA, his job here is to advise the base commander on all legal matters that deal with the Marine Corps installation here, which covers the full range of military law from criminal justice to ethical considerations.
“Our office helps the command decide what gifts we can and cannot accept, reviews requests for community support, manages the tax office and assists with claims if Marines are involved in accidents where there are legal matters against loss or damages,” Ray said. “The base commander gets requests and invitations from the community regularly and we advise him on what we can and cannot accept and do based on rules set by the government.”
Ray said most of the requests his office receives from the community are for Marine Corps speakers, event invitations or tickets, Marine volunteers at various events and requests for assets such as military working dogs, reviewing stands and static displays. “We just want to remind the community we are a service organization and appreciate working and living among our neighbors and thank them for their support,” Ray said.
Ray said it’s a wonderful thing for people in the community to care enough to want to give the Marines gifts and other things in appreciation for their service, but there are specific rules on what can and cannot be accepted.
“For example, we can accept gifts given to all Marines, not centered on a specific Marine or unit, such as cards, gift boxes or tickets,” he said. “It (gift) must be something all Marines can have access to so it is fair to everyone and valued at under $20. Gifts to the Marine Corps as a whole are fine, just not directly to the commanding officer or a specific Marine because of the appearance of influence or endorsement.” Capt. Tyler Gludt, deputy staff judge advocate, MCLB Albany, works with Ray and as the command ethics counselor, requests for community support typically come to him.
“There are a lot of ethical rules that dictate whether or not we can support the community with Marines, other assets or equipment,” Gludt said. “Our final decisions are based on the joint ethics rules put in place by the Department of Defense, the Marine Corps and the commander. We are required by law to avoid the appearance of endorsement by following all legal and ethical rules when dealing with the public and non-federal entities.”
Pertaining to the requests for community support, the Joint Ethics Regulation 3-211 reads: “The commander of any unit, section or organization can provide limited logistical support to non-federal entities if specific criteria are met. Does the event serve a legitimate community interest or is it in the best interest of the Marine Corps or DoD to associate with the event?”
Ray said his office also handles legal assistance for Marines and sailors that include landlord-tenant issues, powers of attorney, divorce and other family law issues such as wills, adoption or custody.
“We do not actually go to court with the Marines, but assist with paperwork requirements and give them legal advice,” he said.
Sgt. Randy Herrington, chief, Distribution Management Office, Logistics Support Division, MCLB Albany, recently used SJA’s services to assist with a power of attorney and exemption from Georgia ad valorem taxes.
“They provided me with great service and they were very professional, polite and helpful,” he said. “My request was handled in a timely manner and it is a great asset to have SJA on the base because it would cost a lot to get an attorney out in town.” Herrington said he recently explained to a few Marines who did not know the SJA staff could assist them with exempting state ad valorem taxes on their vehicles because they are active duty and Georgia is not their state of residence.