Living the dream: Local enjoying military career
Published 7:00 am Wednesday, September 23, 2015
Last year, after nearly 17 years of service in the United States Air Force, Pearl River County native Lt. Col. Shelly Woodard Schools was named a military judge in the Central Region of the AF Trial Judiciary at Joint Base San Antonio in Randolph, Texas.
Although Schools was born in San Antonio, she considers Pearl River County her home. She moved to the area at the age of 8 and graduated from Pearl River Central High School in 1990.
She is the daughter of James and Sheryl Woodard, who now reside in Poplarville, and Schools is one of six children.
She attended the University of Mississippi and graduated cum laude in 1994 with a general and joint business degree. In 1997, she graduated from the University of Mississippi’s School of Law.
In 1993, she met her husband Fred, whose father was the pastor at First Baptist Church Henleyfield. He is a stay-at-home dad to their two boys, 16-year-old Noah and 13-year-old Silas. Fred is also pursuing a doctorate in historical theology.
Schools said she always wanted to be an attorney since before she can remember.
Before completing the bar in 1997, Schools applied to enter the United States Air Force in 1996.
“My dad served in the Air Force during the Vietnam era and he’s always told me, ‘that’s where you should go,”’ Schools said. “When the recruiters came to the law school, I still wasn’t sure what type of law I wanted to practice. Joining the Air Force would give me exposure to different types of law, including criminal, labor and contractual.”
On Nov. 2, 1997, she was commissioned.
Her first stop was officer training school where she received new Judge Advocate General training. All new JAGs begin their careers as prosecutors and she was assigned to Goodfellow Air Force Base in Texas.
“I loved it and really enjoyed criminal law,” she said. “It’s exciting to be in the courtroom. I was exposed to all types of crimes including child sexual abuse, dormitory violations and aggravated assault charges. It’s very challenging, but exciting.”
Next, Schools was assigned to the opposite side of the courtroom, to the defense side, which is an opportunity not presented to many young JAGs, she said. Her duty was to defend her client, even it meant pointing the finger at the government.
She was then moved to the appellate level, which is very different from trial work. Once the trial is over, she reviewed court transcripts to ensure no legal errors were made.
From 2002 to 2005 she taught criminal law at the Air Force Judge Advocate General School in Alabama, which she said was a lot of fun.
In 2005, Schools made her move to the leadership levels when she was named a Deputy Staff Advocate, which is the second most senior JAG at some bases, she said.
From 2007 to 2008, she was deployed to the Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar.
“For four months I was assigned to the combined air operation center and helped manage the entire air war in Iraq and Afghanistan as one of the legal advisors,” Schools said. “We provided advice on air operations. It was my first and only deployment overseas and I would do it again. It was an amazing experience and professionally rewarding.”
As a member of the Air Force, Schools was offered the opportunity for advanced education. She earned a masters at the Military Operational Art and Science, Air Command and Staff College. The courses demanded a lot of reading and writing and she attended classes with people from many different careers, which makes for a well-rounded officer, she said.
In 2009, Schools was selected as deputy legal counsel in the office of the legal counsel to the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.
“My job was to be a legal advisor to the most senior officer in the entire U.S. military, whose job is to advise the president,” Schools said. “I attended meetings in the West Wing of the White House. I counseled on ethics. There was also a mix of JAGS from every branch of military service.”
After that, she was stationed at the Little Rock Air Force Base as staff judge advocate. Her job was to advise wing commanders in every area of the law. She also managed a staff who did prosecution work.
In 2014, she was chosen for her dream job as a military judge and she is currently stationed in San Antonio, Texas.
Every week she is assigned a case and travels to preside over trials.
“I love the courtroom,” she said. “This is what I worked for. My promotions were a natural progression being a judge is special. You make sure your chain of command knows your plans and then a judge advocate general decides if you are qualified.”
On December 1, she will be pinned Colonel.
Schools said the military has provided her family a great life and her husband and children are very supportive of her military career.
“Being in the military requires a sacrifice from your family,” she said. “I’m blessed that I have a husband and children who see the bigger picture and know what it means to serve in the military. It’s an opportunity to serve and give back. They can provide anybody the opportunity to have a successful career. It’s a great place to start a career.”