The Judge Advocate General's Corps recently recognized Gary Chura, Fort Leonard Wood Office of the Staff Judge Advocate chief of client services, as one of five recipients of their first Regimental Award.
Chura was presented with his award at The Judge Advocate General's Legal Center and School on the campus of the University of Virginia, Charlottesville.
"It's very humbling," Chura said. "I really feel like I'm being carried along by the efforts of a great team."
His nomination centered around a new initiative here, aimed at better serving and marshaling resources to represent victims of domestic violence in the Army community.
"That has been very well received by not only our clients but other people within the JAG corps as an extension of trying to serve more people in a better way within the legal assistance office," Chura said.
His efforts included meeting with the Pulaski County prosecutor's office and several local victim advocacy groups in an effort to increase support.
"I have 24 years as a Missouri attorney, so I've gotten my feet wet in family court before I became a judge advocate," he said.
However, Chura is adamant that he did not earn his award alone. His desire to do more for his clients was bolstered by the initial efforts of Capt. Jonathan Mathis, Special Victims Counsel here.
"I was thinking about my role here and about a victim population that was under assisted," Mathis said. "When I was at (Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington), a good friend of mine, who was a civilian attorney on the Air Force side of the base had been doing a lot of domestic violence outreach and so I reached out to him…I talked to Gary about it and we just started running from there about how we could have some more outreach as legal assistance attorneys -- not necessarily the Special Victims Counsel program -- and reach out and really start getting involved in that process and assisting people who could really use the help."
From there, Chura said it was just a matter of pooling their experience and resources.
"I worked the part of linking with local bar -- judiciary in St. Louis, Waynesville, Rolla -- as to how to represent victims of domestic violence while Jon, using his military justice experience, knew how the (family advocacy) programs work, and Army community services, and really marshalled those resources," Chura said.
"Gary has the civilian expertise," Mathis added. "I've been doing this in the Army for a while, and so what I brought was the understanding of the military system. I had a lot of knowledge of the resources available and where the friction points existed on that side of the aisle, and so I brought that in. We had this marriage of military and civilian expertise and we were really able to then start spreading our arms and bringing in a bigger section of the population."
The result of this initiative is a new ability to provide in-court representation for domestic violence victims who would otherwise have to pay for and travel outside the local area for representation.
"Before, we could advise them on how the process works from the side," Chura said. "Now we take a greater role in helping them actually draft the documents that are going to be necessary for them to be able to obtain an order of protection. We know the steps and we can actually go to court for them and act as their counsel. That's probably the biggest thing we can do is say 'yes, I am your attorney in this matter and assume that in-court role.'"
Chura said the time-consuming nature of legal representation is one of the major reasons this type of assistance hasn't been offered much in the past.
"It's a pretty high-level duty, and when you're in, you're in for the long haul," he said. "It's just not a normal aspect of legal assistance, although some offices are expanding and we're one of them."
Chura is also a Reservist judge advocate with the 8th Legal Operations Detachment, and that's another way he's been able to help increase legal services here.
"We have a good active component, reserve component relationship," he said. "We've been more regularly drilling here…opening up the legal assistance office for Saturday services. It also enables us to refer clients with whom we would have a conflict of interest -- for instance, two parties to a divorce -- we can only really see one of them under our ethical responsibilities. We can refer (the other party) to the 8th LOD to get them counsel so we don't completely have to turn them away. We really stepped up that relationship and enabled better service."
Just as they partnered their abilities to provide additional legal assistance, Chura and Mathis each believe the next step in tackling domestic violence is more education and outreach in the community.
"We really want to do our best to reach people who might not know that their suffering is abuse, because domestic violence is way more than just the physical violence -- it's the control, it's the emotional abuse, it's the financial abuse, it's all of those things together," Mathis said. "And so what we really want to be able to do is reach out and communicate to the people who are experiencing it, that there's a safe place they can come and learn about the process, learn about the resources they have, and learn that they don't have to keep suffering, so we're trying to partner with community events to really start passing out information so that people who otherwise wouldn't hear about it, hopefully will."
"We're just trying to help the Army family, including retirees, family members, everybody as much as we can," Chura added. "Our philosophy is: let's figure out where the needs are. It's about growing our ability to help."