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   August 23, 2002

Westwater named Young Army Lawyer of the Year

Story and photo by Spc. Nate Jastrzemski
Staff Writer

Capt. Gisela A. Westwater, a lawyer with West Point's Office of the Staff Judge Advocate, was named Young Army Lawyer of the Year Aug. 9.

Each year, the American Bar Association recognizes the efforts and contributions of young military lawyers ó those under the age of 36 ó by presenting top candidates from each service branch with the Young Military Lawyer of the Year Award.

Only a single member from each service ó the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and Coast Guard ó receives the award, and Aug. 9 the Armyís star lawyer became 33-year-old Capt. Gisela A. Westwater, a member of West Pointís Office of the Staff Judge Advocate.

Hailing from Indianapolis, Ind., Westwater attended Indiana University as an undergraduate and later the Lyndon B. Johnson School at the University of Texas and the New York University School of Law.

After graduating from Indiana University and before beginning graduate studies, she took a two-year respite from scholastics by joining the Peace Corps. Thatís where, Westwater said, she learned self-reliance and problem solving skills in an adventurous environment.

"My time as a Peace Corps Volunteer deepened my need to take the path less traveled," she explained.

It was this sense of adventure that attracted Westwater to join the Army. As a JAG, she said she has been able to "ruck the road less traveled" while also taking advantage of the great professional opportunities the Army offers military lawyers.

"The military has a really great program for JAGs," she said. "You can rotate through legal assistance, administrative law, criminal law, claims ó you donít get pigeonholed into one area.

To start off your career so mono-focused didnít appeal to me."

After completing the Judge Advocate General Officer Basic Course at Charlottesville, Va., Westwater stopped at Fort Benning, Ga., to attend and complete Airborne School and then proceeded to her new home with the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Ky.

While at Fort Campbell she also graduated from Air Assault School.

"Both of these schools really challenged me," she recalled, "but knowing I accomplished in my 30s what many younger men and women have failed to do has given me the strength to succeed at many things.

"Being able to say you jumped out of a helicopter or plane is a pretty exciting lifestyle for a lawyer," she added.

Westwater said receiving the Young Military Lawyer Award was very unexpected.

"Looking out at all the soldiers and lawyers and knowing the amazing things they are doing day in and day out in the service of our country, I feel honored to have received this award," she said. "It makes me feel motivated about what Iím doing."

Westwater said she was surprised as being rewarded for doing her job.

"Iíve seen everything Iíve done as nothing more than my duty, but when I was given the award at the

ABA Convention in Washington D.C. in a room full of civilian lawyers, they heard what I had done to earn it and it was amazing to see their reactions.

"It was great to be recognized and appreciated by our civilian peers," she said.

Col. James P. Gerstenlauer, U.S. Military Academy Staff Judge Advocate, said Westwater was nominated for the award while still with the 101st, but West Point was lucky enough to get her before the convention.

"She absolutely deserves this award," he said, "not only for her military career, but for an entire adult life of service to others. She is dedicated to what weíre doing here and has volunteered a lot of her time to helping others as a Girl Scout leader, in the Peace Corps, as president of two organizations in law school and as a volunteer representing foster-care children in New York City.

"In the Army, she has displayed all the criteria needed to win this prestigious award ó excellence in the service of the legal profession, leadership skills, consistent outstanding performance in all assignments and all the aforementioned community services," Gerstenlauer explained.

"Even with her short time with us, it doesnít surprise me at all that sheís won this award," he added.

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