Setting the bar
By 2nd Lt Benjamin Aronson, 15th Wing Public Affairs
/ Published March 18, 2021
JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii --
A 15th Wing Airman is the Air Force’s first-ever recipient of the Enlisted-Funded Legal Education Program—an initiative for Airmen to become Judge Advocate Generals.
Staff Sgt. Bradley Fenton, 15th Wing Legal Office paralegal, is the first E-FLEP selectee since the program was opened to the enlisted corps.
“When the Pentagon called and said Staff Sgt. Fenton was selected, I started jumping up and down,” said Lt. Col. Evelyn Mack, 15 WG JAG. “It’s such a huge career shift and it’s great for him and his family.”
The E-FLEP program provides selectees with a commission and funds to pay for law school, with the requirement of a 10-year commitment upon completing school.
Fenton said his interest in law began when he was young and he would get into arguments with his teachers and his mother joked he should be a lawyer.
Fenton has a bachelor of science in criminal justice and law enforcement, with a minor in philosophy and a focus in pre-law from Western Illinois University. After graduating, he worked as an Urbana Police Department patrol officer for about a year before enlisting in the Air Force as an aircraft environmental systems specialist.
While stationed at Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, he shadowed at the legal office and submitted paperwork to switch career fields to become a paralegal.
As a paralegal, Fenton worked the administrative side of cases, but still dreamt of law school.
“I wanted to go part time to law school when I got to Hickam, but then we had a major case and I had a lot of responsibility for the case,” said Fenton. “Next, COVID hit and we were busy over the summer adapting to the pandemic.”
With more obstacles getting in the way of law school, Fenton planned to use the G.I. Bill after separating for law school, but then he heard of E-FLEP and immediately began the process.
Between May 2020 and January 2021 Fenton prepared and passed the Air Force Officer Qualifying Test and the Law School Admission Test all while working a major case that included traveling to Maryland for over a month.
“It was a lot of nights with me in the corner with headphones on doing testing prep at home,” said Fenton.
All the work paid off when Fenton learned about his selection during a call with Maj. Gen. Charles L. Plummer, Air Force deputy judge advocate general, and Chief Master Sgt. Ralph Oliver, Air Force JAG senior advisor.
“I remember Maj. Gen. Plummer said something about a staff sergeant being the first one to winand I just froze,” said Fenton. “I went into shock.”
Following the news, Fenton immediately called his wife and his family to give them the good news.
“His background and his experience, combined with how well he has done at all the schools he has gone to made him the perfect candidate,” said Mack. “Having that police officer background helps with introduction with law, then being a maintainer gives him a perspective of the Air Force that some people in the JAG Corps don’t have.”
Fenton plans to go to a school where he can focus on legal writing and dispute resolution along with universal legal skills that are strong in any area of law.