FORT SILL, Okla. (March 21, 2019) -- A young Fort Sill Soldier from the Congo wanted to get his parents to Lawton because they were destitute in a country with many conflicts.

The Fort Sill Legal Assistance Office assisted the Soldier with filling out and submitting the immigration paperwork. The family was reunited here, and are happy to be together.

Immigration assistance is just one of the services the office provides to service members, their families, and military retirees with their personal legal problems.

For the 29th consecutive year, the Fort Sill Legal Assistance Office won the Army Chief of Staff Award for Excellence in Legal Assistance for 2017. The Fires Center of Excellence and Fort Sill, and Garrison command teams presented the award March 12, in Bldg. 4700.

Kathryn McClure, chief of Client Services, accepted the award for the Legal Assistance team, which falls under Client Services.

"I'm delighted, I'm humbled, I'm honored to accept it on behalf of the whole team because it is not representative of one person," McClure said.

Col. Maureen Kohn, Fires Center of Excellence and Fort Sill Staff Judge Advocate, said she was extremely proud of her staff.

"They worked very hard, they're very enthusiastic about their jobs and they genuinely care," she said.

The colonel provided statistics that illustrated the span and volume of Legal Assistance ministrations, which includes wills, powers of attorney, estate planning, family law matters, and landlord and tenant issues.

- Over 7,000 services were provided to 1,500 clients with a savings of more than $3 million in legal fees.

- In addition, the Installation Tax Assistance Center prepared more than 6,000 returns saving customers with over $1 million in preparation fees.

- Fort Sill stood up its support office of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office here.

- Legal Assistance conducted outreach to the local bar association to provide reduced legal fees to junior Soldiers, who needed civilian attorneys.

Maj. Gen. Wilson A. Shoffner, FCoE and Fort Sill commanding general, said providing legal assistance to Soldiers and their families is directly tied to Soldier readiness.

"To be able to provide the services in a timely manner is exceptionally important to Soldiers about to deploy, or go overseas," Shoffner said. "Things like powers of attorney, wills, and taxes can take on monumental importance if they are not done right."

To win the award for 29 consecutive years indicates that leadership has cultivated a culture of excellence; and that dedicated, proud professionals perpetuate this tradition of excellence, the general said. Whether one is a private, a colonel, or a civilian, they figure out how to take their organization to the next level.

Fort Sill was one of six large legal assistance offices to receive the award, McClure said. Installations do not compete against each other, but instead strive to achieve excellence standards.

Chief of staff evaluators examined five areas: quality of legal assistance, preventive law programs, responsiveness to clients, professional development of attorneys and paralegals, and program innovations, McClure said.

Preventive law classes and briefings are given to stop legal problems from developing, McClure said. Topics include landlord and tenant issues; Oklahoma family law on separation, divorce, and child custody; and consumer law. "We did 202 classes and briefings (for Soldiers and family members), and published 37 articles, such as information papers on our website, or articles in The Fort Sill Tribune."

For innovation, the office was evaluated on how it implemented creative ways to better serve its customers, McClure said.

The award evaluators looked at how the Legal Assistance staff was holding itself accountable for its services, what its customer satisfaction percentage was, and how it was keeping FCoE and Fort Sill Staff Judge Advocate informed about its performance.

Every client received a customer survey, not an Interactive Customer Evaluation comment card, McClure said. Each month the Legal Assistance Office compiled customer feedback data from the surveys and briefed Kohn.

She noted that a lot of Soldiers who were on the staff in 2017 have since transferred. McClure also acknowledged Susan Bates Ward, former Legal Assistance chief, who began the winning tradition in 1989. Ward retired in 2010, after 22 years with the program.

"I've filled this job for nine years, and this is the 29th year of winning so that tells you that I stepped into a program that already had a foundation of excellence," McClure said.

The Army Chief of Staff Award for Excellence in Legal Assistance was established in 1986, and the Legal Assistance team here is on track for winning its 30th straight title.
Kohn said you get what you put into your work.

"If you put in a lot of hard work and genuinely care about people it's going to show, it's going to reflect."