I’m a December 2014 DAP selectee for the Air Force, and I thought I would create this post to share my experience working through the selection process. I found this message board to be an invaluable source of information, so I thought I would contribute and maybe synergize a lot of what’s been already posted into one message. With that said, as has been stated repeatedly, reading through all the posts is really very informative.
First, a giant disclaimer. My experience is fairly unique, as is my background. I’m older than a lot of other applicants, and have been working full-time outside of the legal profession for a while. I’ll discuss a little of my credentials, as that is important when you are applying, but because I am sure that I am a fairly atypical candidate, take any of this with a grain of salt.
I started working on the application for the October board, but quickly realized that it would be too difficult to squeeze in an interview before the board, so I decided to apply to the December board. It takes a while, and you want to make sure that you put down everything you can to make a good first impression. In my interview, my application was discussed with the JAG officer I interviewed with. As has been emphasized repeatedly, the AF takes a “total person” approach to looking at applicants, so even if you think that your Merit Badge for knot tying isn’t important, I would put it on the application, and say that the badge shows I know how to stick with an activity. But I’ll talk a little about my application.
I was a part-time student, taking three classes in the evening a semester, including summers. I applied after I had just finishing 60 credits. I did an externship in the summer with a medium-sized commercial litigation firm because I needed to work around my full-time job, and couldn’t do the times offered for any federal internships. I knew from the beginning of law school I wanted to join the Air Force, so I did every extra-curricular I could fit into my schedule. I got to know professors and worked with them outside of class so that they would have something to talk about if I needed a letter of recommendation. I joined Law Review as soon as I could, and also had just gotten on the Moot Court Board. I also had a very good GPA and booked a few classes. However, my undergrad GPA wasn’t great, and my law school would be ranked well at the bottom of the fourth tier if they ranked tier four schools. But, for whatever dings I had, I also had good reasons/lessons/spins for them. Not great UGPA? Tough major, and it taught me that I need to work much harder. Look at graduate degrees and law school GPA. Why the law school I went to? Great scholarship and I could continue working full-time. The point is, everything you put on your application needs to be something that you learned from or something that you could use to show why you should be chosen for JAG.
Also, you have to send in a picture and a motivation statement, and you can send in letters of recommendation. I would send in as many letters as you can (I sent five), and for the picture, make sure you look like someone who the board could see serving in the military. A crisp suit, a haircut and shave can go a long way when the board is narrowing down candidates.
As for the letters of recommendation, this is the place where you can really shine. In my interview, the Colonel and I discussed an example that one of the professors had shared in his letter. The professor wrote about a board we were on and when I stood up to voice my opinion and take a stance that was contrary to that of the school. The Colonel and I were able to discuss this event in more detail and I think it played a big role in the Colonel’s overall impression of me. So see if you can’t get letters from professors who actually know you and have something useful to say about you. I’m not saying suck up to professors or be “that guy,” but if you want to stand out from the thousands of other applicants, you need to do something to stand out from the hundreds of other law students your professors know as well.
Bar none, the most import part of the application process is the interview. You will go to an Air Force base and sit down with a colonel or lieutenant colonel and make your pitch for why you should be selected. This is the job interview right here, so prepare for it like a job interview. Know something about the base and what they do in the JAG office. Know the Air Force principles and work them into your answers. Essentially, however you would prepare for a job interview in the civilian world, you should do it for JAG as well. For my interview, I wore my best suit, arrived early (but not too early) and made small talk with the people in the office. I was shown around by a captain first, and I tried to ask questions and get his take on his experience in the Air Force so far. Personally, I think the Colonel asked the Captain about his impressions of me, so I would recommend treating the office tour as an important part of the interview.
When I met with the Colonel, we discussed why I wanted to join, how would I command airmen who had more experience than me, what my goals were, and then we discussed my letters and application. Every question he would ask I would point to my application or background as demonstrating whatever idea I was trying to convey. Honestly, if you understand that they are looking for people who will work hard, stick around, and be part of an organization, then it’s not hard to come up with good responses. And if you aren’t willing to do the preceding things, then JAG is probably a really bad choice for you.
After the interview, there’s nothing else to do but wait. For the Air Force, I found out the board met through the Air Force JAG Recruiting facebook group. About 6 – 8 weeks after that, you will find out if you were selected. If you are selected, you get a phone call from the person who interviewed you. They will ask if you are still interested in joining, and then let you know a packet will be coming soon.
About two weeks after the phone call (I had moved so the mail had to be forwarded) you will get a large envelope in the mail with instructions of what to do next. The first thing you do is set up a time to call JAX and start filling out the paperwork to go to MEPS. JAX will walk you through the medical questionnaire, and be as honest as humanely possible with JAX. They are in your corner and want you to make it through MEPS, so hiding something from them won’t help your case. Personally, I knew I was going to have a hard go through with MEPS because I had a bad car accident in high school and have the scars to prove it. But my contact at MEPS was always honest with me, and never gave me false hope.
If you have red flags on your questionnaire, then JAX will ask for your medical records. I overnighted everything I had dealing with my car accident, and then you wait again. The first waiver JAX is seeking is for you to even go to MEPS. That is, is your problem so bad that there’s no chance you can get a waiver. As my contact told me, I was definitely going to be DQ’d but hopefully the waiver would work out. Make sure you are a patient person. I was told in January I was selected, go in touch with JAX in February, sent my medical records up in February, and was informed I got a waiver to go to MEPS in May. Literally, the call was “can you go to MEPS in two days?” So there’s definitely some waiting ahead.
At five in the morning I was waiting for MEPS to open, surrounded by a bunch of recent high school graduates. I was the only person commissioning that day, but there were plenty of young faces, and even some kids getting ready to ship out for boot camp. Honestly, being at least ten years older than the majority of the room is kind of annoying, because the people at MEPS have to deal with these kids all day, and thus are a strict bunch. I had to tell one kid to quit trying to talk to me every time someone wasn’t looking. At MEPS, you will go through more paperwork (another health questionnaire) and then pee in a cup, take a vision test, hearing test, flexibility test, and interview. Again, honesty is the best policy here. I knew I was playing for a waiver, so I was as courteous and polite to everyone in MEPS as I could be. The doctors at MEPS again generally deal with a bunch of kids, but if you treat the doctors well, they will look out for you.
The interview with the doctor is the big moment for your waiver. He will ask about the conditions, check you out, and get some background. It’s awkward because you are in your underwear, but it definitely helps to be kind. I was done by 2, and after that it’s the waiting game again.
Now no one can tell you how likely you are to get a waiver. Not me, not JAX, the doctor at MEPS, your military buddy, no one. It is entirely up to a board, and Lord knows how that will go. So if you need a medical waiver, you have my sympathy. It can be a long wait. I went to MEPS in June, and did not find out about my waiver until the end of August. My waiver was granted (thank God), but the wait was difficult. Now, I am waiting for bar exam results to post so I can accept my commission and prepare to go to COT.
I hope this little outline is helpful, and would be happy to answer any questions anyone might have.