Hinesville Rotary Club members heard from an award-winning legal-assistance attorney during their weekly meeting Tuesday at the La Quinta Inn in Flemington.
Russell Putnam Jr., who won this year’s Legal Assistance Military Personnel’s distinguished-service award, talked about the U.S. Army’s Judge Advocate General Corps and what he does to support soldiers and their families.
Putnam was introduced by Rotarian Jeff Arnold of Arnold, Safford and Randolph, Attorneys at Law. Himself a retired major general, Arnold said the American Bar Association recognizes what legal assistance officers do, which he summed up by saying, “They solve the legal problems of soldiers and their families.”
Referring to Putnam as Col. Putnam, Arnold said the speaker is the No. 1 legal-assistance attorney in the world. Putnam provides legal services to soldiers, family members and retirees at Fort Stewart, Hunter Army Airfield and the communities surrounding those installations, he said.
Putnam said that Tuesday was the 239th birthday of the JAG Corps. The retired JAG officer, who now serves as a Department of Defense civilian employee, said he was humbled to receive the LAMP award and honored to speak to the business leaders.
After discussing the functions of each JAG department, he talked about the three major areas where he’s worked during the 14 years he’s served on Fort Stewart — working with Gold Star families, helping immigrant soldiers gain U.S. citizenship and mentoring junior JAG officers.
“The Gold Star program was started in 2003, when we realized we were going to have casualties and a lot of them,” Putnam said. “Essentially, my role has been to help Gold Star families settle their estates. I’ve been to Arlington National Cemetery 26 times to attend the burial of friends or family. I understand what these families are experiencing.”
He said that President George Bush, before he left office, signed an executive order promising citizenship to any immigrant who serves this country honorably for at least one day. Putnam estimated about half of the legal services he provides deal with helping these soldiers.
His distinguished-service award citation notes that his expertise in immigration law made him invaluable in establishing a new block of instruction on how Uniform Code of Military Justice actions or administrative proceedings can adversely affect an immigrant soldier’s pending citizenship.
Putnam also was commended for helping more than 9,000 soldiers prepare for deployment, and he helped more than 5,000 soldiers re-acclimate when they returned home. He met with more than 1,000 legal clients in 2013 for a variety of legal issues, updated 10 information papers and briefed nearly 70 casualty assistance officers.
“I love my job,” Putnam said. “I’m just very lucky to have a job I enjoy doing and to receive the LAMP award.”
Jeff Ricketson asked if immigrants who are here illegally can enlist in the Army. Putnam told him “no,” adding that most of the immigration cases they deal with involve students whose visas have expired. He said most of his clients become frustrated with how slow the immigration system works.
Other business conducted during Tuesday’s meeting included member David Morris presenting the club’s high-school scholarship to Liberty County High School graduate Christopher Johnson. Members also discussed plans for a fishing tournament in September.