Paralegal retires after 34 years

Col. James W. Kellogg, 94th Airlift Wing commander, presents Senior Master Sgt. Donna Bridges, 94th AW law office superintendent, with her certificate of retirement at Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Ga. Nov. 4, 2017. Bridges served 34 years in the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Justin Clayvon)

Col. James W. Kellogg, 94th Airlift Wing commander, presents Senior Master Sgt. Donna Bridges, 94th AW law office superintendent, with her certificate of retirement at Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Ga. Nov. 4, 2017. Bridges served 34 years in the U.S. Air Force. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Justin Clayvon)

Bob DeLancy pins a retirement medal on Senior Master Sgt. Donna Bridges, 94th Airlift Wing law office superintendent, at Dobbins Air Reserve Base Nov. 4, 2017. Her father played a key role in her joining the military as he signed the necessary paperwork so she could join the U.S. Air Force at age 17. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Miles Wilson)

Bob DeLancy pins a retirement medal on Senior Master Sgt. Donna Bridges, 94th Airlift Wing law office superintendent, at Dobbins Air Reserve Base Nov. 4, 2017. Her father played a key role in her joining the military as he signed the necessary paperwork so she could join the U.S. Air Force at age 17. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Miles Wilson)

From left, Col. James Kellogg, 94th Airlift Wing commander; Master Sgt. Todd Owens, 700th Airlift Squadron loadmaster; and Senior Master Sgt. Donna Bridges, 94th AW law office superintendent; stand on stage shortly before Kellogg presented Owens with a spouse certificate of appreciation at Bridges' retirement ceremony Nov. 4, 2017. The certificate was presented to Owens, Bridges' husband, to show the wing's appreciation for his support throughout Bridges' 34-year career. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Miles Wilson)

From left, Col. James Kellogg, 94th Airlift Wing commander; Master Sgt. Todd Owens, 700th Airlift Squadron loadmaster; and Senior Master Sgt. Donna Bridges, 94th AW law office superintendent; stand on stage shortly before Kellogg presented Owens with a spouse certificate of appreciation at Bridges' retirement ceremony Nov. 4, 2017. The certificate was presented to Owens, Bridges' husband, to show the wing's appreciation for his support throughout Bridges' 34-year career. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Miles Wilson)

Senior Master Sgt. Donna Bridges, 94th Airlift Wing law office superintendent, claps during her retirement ceremony at Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Ga. Nov. 4, 2017. She retired after 34 years of service, with 27 of those years spent as a paralegal. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Miles Wilson)

Senior Master Sgt. Donna Bridges, 94th Airlift Wing law office superintendent, claps during her retirement ceremony at Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Ga. Nov. 4, 2017. She retired after 34 years of service, with 27 of those years spent as a paralegal. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Miles Wilson)

DOBBINS AIR RESERVE BASE, Ga. – Emotion filled the room as the first and only Air Reserve Technician paralegal retired here Nov. 4.

Senior Master Sgt. Donna M. Bridges, 94th Airlift Wing law office superintendent, retired after 34 total years of service, 30 of which she served as a paralegal.

Bridges entered the Air Force in 1983 as a personal affairs specialist and was initially assigned to Hanscom AFB, Massachusetts. She eventually cross-trained as a paralegal and attended legal school at Keesler AFB, Mississippi. Her active duty career took her to California, where she served as a paralegal at Edwards AFB and then George AFB.

After separating from active duty, Bridges joined the Air Force Reserve and was assigned to Dobbins. Starting at a new office can be an interesting experience in itself, but Bridges’ experience was quite unique.

“They escorted me to my office, which was a legit log cabin – with a kitchen, a bathroom, bedrooms that were offices – on a lake,” said Bridges.

Here at the legal office by the lake, she was also greeted with another surprise. The staff judge advocates working in the office were unaccustomed to a fully-trained paralegal, but rather had grown accustomed to working with secretaries over the years. Bridges quickly made a name for herself and demonstrated her expertise as a paralegal.

Initially, she had a difficult time adjusting to the Air Force Reserve, and even contemplated leaving the military completely, she said.

But her commander at the time had a different idea. He knew she was a well-qualified paralegal not being fully utilized, but he also knew the Reserve would soon be sending active duty JAGs to Air Force Reserve bases and knew she’d be a good fit to work with them based on her knowledge and expertise.

In 1993 she became the first and only Air Reserve Technician paralegal in the Air Force Reserve.

“It was a joy to serve nine out of the ten active-duty JAGs that have been assigned to Dobbins,” said Bridges.

She missed serving under the one JAG when she volunteered for an active guard reserve position at the Judge Advocate General’s School at Maxwell AFB, Alabama. 

In March 2014, Bridges returned to her Air Reserve Technician job at Dobbins, where most recently she played a key part in drafting up wills and powers of attorney for the nearly quarter of the wing that deployed to the Middle East.

She concluded the ceremony with a bit of advice to young Airmen in the audience. She advised them to capture memories from each milestone of their careers, namely by taking photos of everyday experiences to document their Air Force journey.

“Take pictures and save them so you can look back on them at the end of your career, because I promise you, you will cherish those memories,” she said.

Although she’s retiring, she’ll remain a regular fixture at Dobbins working as a civilian in the legal office.