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Enlisted position provides flexibility in courtroom

Staff Sgt. Antonia Willis repeats what is said during a court martial into a voice recognition program April 20 at Yokota Air Base, Japan. He is an enlisted court reporter and documents everything that is said and done during trials. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Gena Armstrong)

Staff Sgt. Antonia Willis repeats what is said during a court martial into a voice recognition program April 20 at Yokota Air Base, Japan. He is an enlisted court reporter and documents everything that is said and done during trials. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Gena Armstrong)

YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan (AFNEWS) -- While some enlisted paralegals are trained to do court reporting in addition to their normal duties, there are only five paralegals who do court reporting as their sole responsibility.

The duty of court reporting usually fell to a civilian, but these select few were specially trained by the Army to do it as their specific job. They will help decide whether it will become the Air Force's new standard.

"Based on how well we did and performed pretty much decided whether this program would continue," said Staff Sgt. Antonia Willis, the enlisted court reporter for Pacific Air Forces who is stationed at Yokota Air Base. "I feel honored to be able to be one of the first five to give other paralegals the opportunity to do a job that I think is one of the most important jobs in our justice system."

The other four reporters are Tech. Sgt. Katrina Martin from Ramstein Air Base, Germany; Tech. Sgt. Marcel Brown from Randolph Air Force Base, Texas; Tech. Sgt. Virginia Race from Bolling AFB in Washington, D.C.; and Tech. Sgt. Shawn Bauer from Edwards AFB, Calif.

It is the court reporter's responsibility to listen carefully during a trial, recording what is said and the actions taking place in the courtroom. Sergeant Willis uses a laptop with voice recognition software into which he repeats everything he hears from the microphones placed around the court room. After trials, he checks the files to ensure their accuracy.

"If you don't get the record right, that's that person's life," Sergeant Willis said. "You can make a mistake and this process can mean whether a person gets time off their sentence or they get more time, depending on what you do wrong or how fast you can get the record (completed)."

Sergeant Willis said the responsibility puts a bit of pressure on the reporter, but there is also stress in bearing witness inside the court room.

"A lot of people will ask me 'Is it fun doing this job?' or 'You must enjoy doing this job because you get to see what's going on in people's lives.' I'm always telling them that it's not fun watching someone's career or their life being put on the line in front of a group of members. So sometimes it can be stressful," he said.

Sergeant Willis said he still enjoys the overall experience he gains.

"You're just sitting here seeing how the justice system works, how the whole thing plays out from a guilty sentence to a not guilty sentence. And I like the travel. I enjoy being able to travel to different bases."

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