LINCOLN, Neb. – Erika Lynch isn’t too big on personal milestones. So, when she became the first Nebraska Air National Guard woman to become the state’s staff judge advocate – essentially the Nebraska National Guard’s top lawyer – she quickly downplayed the personal achievement, choosing instead to focus on the opportunity she feels she now has to help mentor the Guard’s youngest lawyers and legal support staff.
“I’ve never really been into labels like that,” said Lynch, who was promoted to the rank of colonel in the Nebraska Air National Guard on Sept. 11 during a ceremony at the Nebraska National Guard’s Joint Force Headquarters. “It’s an honor to be the first of anything… but it doesn’t define me.”
“I’m more excited about the opportunity to lead this group of Air and Army National Guard lawyers and paralegals to help find ways where we can leverage our strengths, interact more closely and improve our team cohesion.”
In many ways, Lynch has spent her lifetime gathering the experiences needed to help take a diverse group of Soldiers and Airmen and build them into a cohesive legal team.
Born in Romania, Lynch and her family immigrated to Phoenix, Arizona, after her family’s escape from communism when she was two. Sponsored by the local Catholic Church, Lynch grew up and attended elementary and high school in Arizona. After graduating from Arizona State University where she earned her commission as a second lieutenant through the U.S. Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps, she moved to Omaha to attend law school at Creighton University through the Educational Delay Law Program.
While in law school, Lynch met her future husband Scott, a young electronic warfare officer stationed at nearby Offutt Air Force Base and now retired Lieutenant Colonel with 21 years’ active service. It was the beginning of what would become a long-term relationship with Nebraska.
Following law school, Lynch was stationed at McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas, where she initially served as an assistant staff judge advocate. “A first assignment assistant staff judge advocate is normally responsible for claims, civil law and legal assistance,” Lynch said. “You also get the opportunity to prosecute cases as a trial attorney.”
After three years at McConnell, Lynch was reassigned to Offutt in 2005.
There, she soon became the chief of Military Justice where she not only served as the base’s lead prosecutor, but also as a mentor to the base’s diverse team of young Air Force lawyers and legal support specialists.
“I found out pretty quickly that I loved helping teach and mentor Airmen,” Lynch said.
She soon got an opportunity to even further this passion when she was assigned to the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs as a professor of Law. “To me, that was the tip of the spear… teaching Air Force officers and squadron commanders about the law and how to be better leaders.”
Following a few more assignments, Lynch decided to leave active duty in 2015. She soon became a member of the U.S. Air Force Reserve at 12th Air Force and a civilian bond attorney for Kutak Rock LLP, in Omaha. As a civilian bond attorney she serves as bond counsel, special tax counsel, general counsel and underwriter’s counsel to state housing finance agencies across the country in connection with issuances of mortgage revenue bonds to help finance housing loans and multifamily housing projects that benefit low and moderate income families.
After a year in the Reserves, Lynch received an email from a Nebraska Air National Guard recruiting officer letting her know that the organization had an opening for an Air Force judge advocate.
“I jumped at it,” Lynch said.
Joining the Guard’s Joint Force Headquarters in late 2017, Lynch said she was surprised by what she encountered. Along with working with Nebraska Army National Guard lawyers – a novel experience in itself -- she also found out that her knowledge about the National Guard in general was extremely limited.
Lynch said that during her earlier assignments very little was ever spoken about the National Guard and the roles it plays in both the defense of the United States and in response to a wide array of local, state and national emergencies. “I wish someone had taken the time to tell me that there really is a difference between the National Guard and the active Air Force, and that I should take time to learn those differences.”
Instead, Lynch said, the learning had to be gathered through real world experiences.
“I now have just such an appreciation for the complexity for what it means to be a Guardsman,” she said. “There’s just so many challenging aspects and diverse interests that (Guardsmen) have to manage in terms of their civilian job, their family life and their military jobs.”
“And the missions – between the state mission and the federal mission – (Guardsmen) really have to be on their game all of the time,” Lynch added. “It’s really impressive that people are able to do that… and to do it in such a way that they are able to do the job as good as, if not better than, the active duty.”
Following a short stint with the Nebraska Air National Guard’s 155th Air Refueling Wing, during which her office was named the top Air National Guard legal office in Air Mobility Command, Lynch returned to the JFHQ earlier this summer in anticipation of becoming the first woman and only the second Air National Guard state staff judge advocate in the history of the Nebraska National Guard.
According to Maj. Gen. Wendy Johnson, former Nebraska Air National Guard assistant adjutant general who now serves as the Air National Guard assistant to the commander of the U.S. Air Force’s Material Command, Lynch is well equipped to lead the Nebraska National Guard’s judge advocate team into the future.
“What a great addition to our team,” said Johnson, who officiated at Lynch’s promotion ceremony. Johnson said Lynch’s vast experience is exactly what the organization needs. “The challenge for the National Guard is that you can become somewhat insular. We need diversity of thought.”
“She has a hammer in her office and it’s there for a good reason… she’s good at her job,” Johnson added. “We need her talent in this organization. That’s why we’re so glad to have her as part of this team.”
Lynch said she knows she has a big job in front of her.
“Even though we’re all lawyers and we’re following the same general laws, the way that the Army and the Air Force interpret and implement the laws and specific policy is often very different,” she said. “The most important thing that we can do as an organization is ensure that were doing things consistently. Consistency is a key in being effective and maintain good order and discipline.”
“That’s why I look forward to working more closely with our Army Guard team and looking for ways for us to work more closely together and to learn from each other.”
“I’m excited for the opportunity.”