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Fort Lauderdale lawyer Stephanie Alexander acknowledges it may sound corny, but after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, believing the U.S. faced a continuing threat, she joined the U.S. Army Reserve. “I felt there was going to be a lingering peril from terrorism and I wanted to do my part,” said Alexander, a first lieutenant. “I feel very blessed that I have gotten so much from living in this country.” The purpose of the Army’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps is to handle the legal needs of the Army and its employees. It functions as a giant law firm, she said, with offices at many military installations. “We represent the Army in its different contracts and we represent our soldiers with their various legal needs,” Alexander said. By joining the Judge Advocate General’s Corps she has added to an already full schedule. Alexander, 39, is an associate specializing in health care litigation at Tripp Scott in Fort Lauderdale. She takes care of her two daughters, spends a weekend a month plus two weeks a year in the Reserve, and teaches a class at Nova Southeastern University’s law school as an adjunct professor. Still, Alexander said she knew joining the JAG Corps was the right decision when she received her acceptance letter in the mail. “It came on the one-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks, Sept. 11, 2002,” she said. Three months later she received her official papers and signed on for an eight-year commitment to Uncle Sam. She’s attached to the 174th Legal Support Organization, based in North Miami, part of the 81st Regional Readiness Command. Her unit has about 100 members statewide. Her first military experience came in March when she went for weapons training at Camp Blanding in Starke, Fla. “I actually had to learn to shoot the M-16,” she said. Weapons training for a lawyer, Alexander explained, is necessary, as even judge advocates are used in combat areas. And with the heavy reliance on Reserve forces in today’s U.S. military, even Reserve judge advocates face the possibility of being called to active duty and working in combat areas. If that happens, they must be able to defend themselves, she said. Alexander was not called to active duty during this year’s conflict in Iraq; she has yet to complete her training. Earlier this year, six South Florida lawyers and four paralegals attached to the 174th were summoned to active duty at Fort Stewart, Ga., to replace judge advocates who had been sent for duty in Kuwait. Since the 2001 terrorist attacks, two other groups from the unit have been called up to replace active duty judge advocates who were shipped out to Afghanistan and elsewhere. For a lawyer joining the JAG Corps the training is slightly different than the typical enlistee, who would be immediately shipped off for 16 weeks of basic training, learning to be a soldier first. Later, that soldier would be taught the skills needed to fulfill his or her particular function within the service. The training process for new JAG reservists allows for much more flexibility. “The training is broken into two phases,” she said. “Phase 1 is four weeks of basic training, teaching military skills, and Phase 2 is a series of 12 legal courses specific to the Army and the JAG Corps.” But, as Alexander explained it, the JAG reservist is allowed to complete those phases at any point during the first 12 months in the corps with no emphasis on any particular order. As a result, Alexander served her first monthly weekend duty before she had even been through basic training. “There was so much to learn that first weekend,” she said. “I didn’t even know the proper way to wear my uniform.” Since that first weekend duty in March, Alexander completed her four weeks of basic in June and has finished four of the 12 legal courses, which are offered at the JAG school in Charlotte, N.C., and online. “Many of those I went in with were inspired by the Sept. 11 attacks,” she said. “I would recommend to everyone that they find something they can do to contribute.” The history of the judge advocate dates back to the American Revolution. The Second Continental Congress, on July 29, 1775, selected 25-year old Col. William Tudor, a Harvard graduate from Boston as the first judge advocate. According to the U.S. Army’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps, 15 judge advocates served during the Revolutionary War, including Capt. John Marshall, who would later become U.S. chief justice. The judge advocate was abolished in 1802. In 1849 Congress re-established the position for the Army and in 1862, as the Civil War was raging, Congress established an official corps of judge advocates. World War I saw the creation of the JAG Department, later to become the JAG Corps, and the expansion of the operation to 426 officers, many of whom were reservists. Today there are about 1,500 judge advocates in the corps; more than 300 are women. The corps also employs more than 400 civilian attorneys. Alexander said that she had always known about the JAG Corps but wasn’t sure that joining was going to be an option for her. The maximum age to join is 35 years. Still, she spoke to a recruiter who assured her that sometimes exceptions are made, especially if an applicant is particularly qualified. She was 37 when she submitted her application; 14 months later she was in. With the high percentage of today’s military drawn from Reserve forces, Alexander said, there can be many legal implications when a significant number of troops is asked to go on active duty such as in Afghanistan or Iraq. Having to break contractual obligations, such as rental agreements are common legal problems for reservists called to active duty. But the No. 1 need, Alexander said, is the drawing up or updating of wills. There is a dramatic uprooting of people that requires a massive number of legal issues to be addressed when troops are called up, Alexander said. And just as many are often needed when the soldier returns to reserve status. Alexander said her involvement with the corps has given her a sense of pride and involvement she had never felt before. She said she wants to be an example for her daughters, ages 8 and 4. “We should all get out there and do something to make a difference,” she said.

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