FLEP propels former cadet to dream of law school

First Lt. Jocelyn Mitnaul will attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for law school as the sole recipient of the Funded Legal Education Program award in 2011.

First Lt. Jocelyn Mitnaul will attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for law school as the sole recipient of the Funded Legal Education Program award in 2011.

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Co. -- First Lt. Jocelyn Mitnaul sought the law, and both won.

A 2007 Air Force Academy graduate, Lieutenant Mitnaul was selected as the only winner of this year's Funded Legal Education Program award, meaning the Air Force will pay her way through law school.

The FLEP is a legal program for active-duty commissioned officers who have between two and six years of active-duty service. The award is a change of assignment and will allow her to continue earning military pay and benefits while attending law school.

Lieutenant Mitnaul's interest in a legal career was sparked by a discussion she had as a cadet with Academy law professor Col. John Hertel. She couldn't attend law school right after graduation from the Academy, but she began applying for the FLEP in 2009, the year she became eligible.

But part of the application is a release letter from the applicant's current career field. Lieutenant Mitnaul had been working as an intelligence officer at Charleston Air Force Base in South Carolina. Because that career field was undermanned, she said, she couldn't obtain the necessary release letter.

"I decided to apply again for the 2011 board, and I initially felt my chances of getting it were very slim because I had been told multiple times there are between one and three slots per year," Lieutenant Mitnaul said. "Regardless of what people said and thought, I knew that what God had for me would be for me, so I applied anyway."

That decision led to the life-changing news she received in March. It also allows her alma mater to tout the fact that the sole recipient of this lucrative Air Force award in 2011 is an Academy alumna.

After another tense wait, Lieutenant Mitnaul found out this week that she had been accepted into her top choice of law school, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
She would have stayed in the Carolinas anyway; her fallback option was the University of South Carolina.

She didn't hesitate to accept the offer to become a Tarheel, though. And after completing law school, she plans to serve in the Judge Advocate General corps and focus on family law.

"I know the importance of having a stable personal life and how it can affect your professional life," she said. "Thankfully, my parents have been married for over 30 years, but I have witnessed what happens to people when they have not experienced such a blessing. I want to be able to help Airmen and spouses sort out divorces, child issues, etc., in order to help them carry out their jobs in a professional manner on a daily basis."

Colorado Springs continues to be rewarded by the Mitnaul family's stability, even after Jocelyn's departure for the East Coast. Her father, Col. Henry Mitnaul, is the deputy in charge of space protection at Peterson Air Force Base. And she has a brother in this year's graduating class at the Academy.

"(My wife) Teresa and I encouraged our children to be faithful servants" Colonel Mitnaul said. "Jocelyn has been blessed with another opportunity as an Air Force Funded Legal Education Program selectee. We are extremely proud of who she is and her accomplishments."

As far as personal achievements go, it's hard to see 2011 as anything but a banner year for the Mitnaul family.

With her near-term career goals now in sharp focus, Lieutenant Mitnaul is plunging ahead with determination and excitement. Where the road takes her in the far-off future is anybody's guess, but she's sure of one thing.

"After completing my USAFA commitment, attending law school, and serving my FLEP commitment, I will have 14 years in service," she said. "It would be wise to do at least six more years and retire from the Air Force, but I have promised myself (I won't) become one of those people in the military who has been in for 14 to 19 years and is no longer enjoying it but decides to just 'stick it out.' ... If my talents and desires lead me elsewhere, I will pursue them."