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HARTFORD, Conn. — Photographers tend to catch the bittersweet instant when soldiers kiss loved ones goodbye. But that’s not the most wrenching moment of going off to war. In the experience of Capt. Timothy Tomcho, judge advocate of Connecticut’s National Guard, it hits everyone hardest when a soldier hands over a last will and testament to those being left behind. “Often soldiers don’t feel their mortality until they see us,” said Tomcho, a full-time military lawyer posted at the State Armory in Hartford, Conn. He’s helped some 800 soldiers get their affairs in order for overseas duty in the new showdown with Saddam Hussein, dubbed Operation Iraqi Freedom. “Advance directives” is the military term for the package of legal papers a soldier can have prepared to appoint a health care agent, create a living will, make bequests and appoint guardians for their children. If a soldier has an estate of more than $1 million, requiring more complex planning, JAG officers make referrals to the veterans and military affairs section of the Connecticut Bar Association, headed by attorney John Jepson. But millionaire soldiers are not as common as those who, at least at first, insist they have nothing to leave anyone. “They tell me they don’t need a will, because all they’ve got is ‘my dog tags and boots,’” said Tomcho. He, however, counsels that, even with a modest estate, it can be helpful for survivors to receive thoughtful and personal written instructions. Although legal documents are still prepared on paper, a soldier’s medical “papers” are now part of a new kind of dog tag — a shiny gold-colored computer chip laminated onto an ID card. It can contain a soldier’s entire medical history, readable by computer in a quick, confidential manner. Tomcho is a 1999 grad of the University of Connecticut School of Law. He’s been working as an Army National Guard JAG officer since then. During a March 17 interview, a day referred to as “the last day for diplomacy” before war, Tomcho was relaxed and professional. He paused briefly to handle a walk-in case, a soldier who had “popped hot” — allegedly flunking a drug test. Although under military law he could demand a hearing and have either a civilian lawyer, officer or JAG lawyer represent him, that’s unlikely. “It would normally be handled with an administrative discharge,” Tomcho said. The seven-officer JAG office at the Armory is composed of two lieutenant colonels, one major, two captains and two lieutenants — serving 4,000 Army National Guard troops. Legally, they operate under state law, governed by Title 27 of the Connecticut General Statutes. But economically, the guard is “like a gift of the federal government” with 5,000 soldiers and airmen earning federal salaries. The state contributed $6 million to their budget last year, while the federal government paid $120 million. Nationwide, the military bar is far ahead of civilians on the controversial issue of interstate licensure. Under federal law, any JAG officer licensed in any state can write wills for soldiers from any state. Thomas B. Scheffey is a reporter with The Connecticut Law Tribune , a Recorder affiliate based in Hartford, Conn.

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