The views expressed in my “Army Strong Story” are mine alone, and do not reflect the official policy, position, or opinion of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the United States Government.
I have been a Judge Advocate (aka military lawyer) since 2003. Whereas practicing law was always a childhood dream, joining the Army "to be all I could be" was never on my list of things to do. Ironically, when I graduated from high school, I did just that; I entered the United States Military Academy (USMA) and joined the Army. Like many West Pointers, I initially planned to serve 5 years in the military (my USMA service obligation) and then get out of the military. More than 14 years later, however, I am still serving in the Army. One of the reasons I continue to serve is because the Army, through its funded legal education program (FLEP), afforded me the opportunity attain one of my dreams--a law degree.
The FLEP affords selected officers the opportunity to obtain a law degree at an approved civilian law school at government expense. Moreover, upon the successful completion of law school and passage of the bar examination (in any state), officers are branch transferred from their basic branch into the JAGC. As a prerequisite, officers that apply for this program cannot have less than 2 years or more than six years of federal service at time on which law school begins.
I graduated from the USMA in 1998, and was initially commissioned as a 2LT in the MP Corps. In October 1999, just prior to my promotion to 1LT, I submitted an application for the FLEP. After I submitted my application, I remember discussing my application with my chain of command. I specifically remember my battalion commander counseling me and saying that “non-selection at such an early point in my career was not a show stopper [and] that I could apply again the following few years.” The FLEP selection board posted the board results in November 1999 and, to the surprise on my chain of command, my name was on the list. I began law school on August 13, 2000 at the University of Virginia. On 30 May 2003, I graduated, in July 2003, I passed the Connecticut State Bar, and in August 2003, I began my career as an Army judge advocate. [**Lesson(s) learned: Even when the odds are seemingly stacked against you, continue to drive on, as well as the age old cliché: "Where there is a will, there's a way!" ]
The date on which I was selected for the FLEP marked the merging of my military career with my life-long dreams—practicing law. Whereas I always loved the law and knew that I wanted to be a part of the legal profession, I did not always know that I wanted to make a career out of the military. However, through time, growth and experience, I also came to love the military. Acceptance into the FLEP was just my first stepping stone.
To this day, the Army continues to be the vehicle through which I have been faced with my most difficult challenges, learned out how to deal with and overcome adversity, and learned my greatest life lessons. My selection to the FLEP is just one example of these principles in action.
The Army was (and still is) a "side-ways" blessing. I believe that everyone should spend at least a year or two in the military. The experience is invaluable.
Major Yolanda D. McCray Jones
Student, Command and General Staff College
Fort Lee Satellite Campus