When they received word that Acting Assistant Attorney General (AAG) Thomas E. Wheeler would soon visit Naval Air Station Pensacola, the team at Region Legal Service Office Southeast (RLSO SE) sprang into action.
Lt. Caitlin Howitt, staff judge advocate at Naval Air Technical Training Center (NATTC); Lt. Nicole Staring, staff judge advocate at Naval Air Station Pensacola; and legal assistance attorney Lt. John Schwietz worked quickly and efficiently to plan an informative and engaging Town Hall meeting on Feb. 28.
They reached out to tenant commands to promote and encourage participation in the event. They also coordinated a wide range of logistics, from base access, to auditorium reservations, to technology and connectivity issues.
“Capt. Hugh Rankin and the NATTC community were happy to host AAG Wheeler and his Department of Justice (DOJ) colleagues,” said Howitt. “Their visit demonstrated DOJ’s dedication to service members. By teaching our students about the financial benefits and protections available to service members – starting this sort of fiscal education early in their careers – we are setting these Sailors up for success.”
In addition to the AAG, the following guest speakers presented at the Town Hall: Tanya Kirwan, assistant director, DOJ’s Servicemembers and Veterans Initiative, and Liz Singer, director of the U.S. Attorneys’ Fair Housing Program in the Housing and Enforcement Section of DOJ’s Civil Rights Division. Rankin briefly introduced AAG Wheeler, who spoke about his background and the DOJ’s commitment to service members. Kirwan and Singer then gave a presentation focused on Servicemembers Civil Relief Act (SCRA) rights and enforcements. After their presentation, they took off-line questions from attendees, since many Sailors were hesitant to ask questions in front of the audience of more than 1,500 attendees.
“The Town Hall was a great success and already has resulted in increased awareness of SCRA rights at Naval Air Station Pensacola,” said Schwietz. “There has been a noticeable uptick in legal assistance inquiries directly related to the event.” The successful visit further strengthened ties between the Navy and DOJ. Perhaps more importantly, the Town Hall event educated Sailors how the SCRA – and legal assistance services on base – can protect them and their families.