When a new member of the Hickam Air Force base legal office lands at the Honolulu Airport, the entire staff shows up to welcome the new arrival with Hawaiian leis. “They really make you feel welcome. Everyone knows everyone else’s husbands, wives, and children. It really is more like a family than a job,” said Christine Arena ’11 whose summer internship is with the Air Force Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps.
Across the United States, the Air Force JAG Corps selects 50 law students to participate in its prestigious summer internship program with only 25 of them being paid internships. Arena ’11 was one of them. “It was a very rigorous process. I wrote five essays, and with only 10 percent or so of the applicants being accepted, I didn’t think I had much of a chance,” Arena said.
She hoped to be stationed on the East coast but ended up in Hawaii where she has spent what she calls “the best summer of my life.” The legal office handles a range of activities, including military justice, legal assistance, contracts, environmental law, claims and federal magistrate court. During the first part of her internship, her assignments included working on courts-martial, calling witnesses, reviewing evidence and brainstorming trial strategies with colleagues.
Arena even participated in a “murder board.” That’s when the prosecuting officer “says everything she plans to say at the trial, and then we have the chance to ‘murder’ her.” Arena said her participation on the Trial Advocacy Board
helped prepare her when she was called on by her supervisor. “I felt comfortable pointing out what [the officer] might do differently to be more effective. I used the skills I developed from my participation in Trial Advocacy.” She also mentioned that serving as a research assistant for the Agricultural Law Resource and Reference Center
helped her deliver on the research projects she has been assigned.
A feeling of worth
“I have to say, the best part has been working with clients. I might just be giving them guidance on where to find information about divorce or child custody; or deployment-related issues such as executing a will or power-of-attorney, but you get immediate feedback and gratitude,” Arena said of her work. “It feels good to give someone who is about to deploy peace of mind so he or she can focus on the mission and not worry about his or her family and affairs back at home.”
In addition to learning new skills that can only be developed “on the job,” Arena said she has been “immersed in a new culture with a new language. There are the military aspects, like chain of command, that take getting used to and then there is this alphabet soup. Everything is an initialism or acronym…AFIs, UCMJ, ADC.” Arena feels her role as an intern, a civilian, and an aspiring lawyer has made it easy for her to fit in. “I can see the benefits of being in the military without having the military responsibilities.”
“The Air Force JAG Corps intern program is a great way to showcase the legal opportunities available in the Air Force,” said Staff Judge Advocate Lt. Col. Derek Grimes. “During the program, interns typically work in multiple areas of the law and get to experience firsthand the role the JAG Corps plays in supporting the Air Force mission around the world.”
At some point, Arena will need to decide whether military life is the right choice for her. “It has always been in the back of my mind. My grandfather was a captain in the Air Force.” If accepted, a law school graduate would join the military as a lawyer and an officer. “That’s very different from coming in as an Airman Basic.”
Though Arena embraces many elements of military life, she said she is glad she doesn’t have to do mandatory PT (physical training), but she has pushed herself to get more physically fit. One of her weekend excursions took her to Koko Head State Park, which has a trail comprised of more than 1,000 old railroad tracks ascending at a very steep angle. “It was brutal but the view from the top was worth it. You could see so much of Oahu’s beauty.” She added, “I do not want to leave.”