GREAT LAKES (NNS) -- Spend just a few minutes talking with Legalman 2nd Class (LN2) Antonio Dominguez and two things quickly become clear: he is passionate about his role in the administrative separations division of the legal department at Recruit Training Command (RTC), and he cares very deeply about recruits facing separation.
The juxtaposition of those responsibilities creates a delicate tightrope upon which Dominguez balances daily.
Administrative separations, military justice and congressional inquiries are the three main divisions of RTC Legal. They account for the majority of the workload handled by the 11 military personnel, led by Lt. Christina Sorgi, Judge Advocate General's Corps, and four civilian staff members. All are attached to Regional Legal Office Midwest and they are augmented by two RTC personnel and a civilian intern, who is in law school.
"The legal department supports the mission of Recruit Training Command. While we are not directly involved in any training evolutions, we help ensure the best Sailors make it out to the fleet," Sorgi said. "This principally occurs via the administrative separation process, which helps those return home who might need to work on some issues before they're ready for Sailorization, and through the facilitation of good order and discipline at evolutions like captain's mast. We also help ensure internal compliance with applicable laws and regulations and engage directly with parents and other entities interested in recruits or issues on board RTC."
Dominguez, who graduated from boot camp in 2011, attended Fire Controlman "A" School at Naval Station Great Lakes (NSGL) and voluntarily cross-rated to aviation electronics technician. In late 2016, he cross-rated again to become a legalman. He attended Naval Justice School at Naval Station Newport in Newport, Rhode Island, before returning to NSGL at Regional Legal Office Midwest.
"One of the reasons I changed to legalman is that you have to go in front of a review board to get into this rate," Dominguez said. "You have to represent yourself at a certain level of professionalism, and you have to prove that you can handle a certain degree of complexity in your work. I like the idea that you can't just sign up to be a legalman, you have to want to be a legalman and prove that's what you want to do."
A typical work week for Dominguez consists of processing and reviewing up to 30 administrative separation cases. Dominguez is one of five legalmen who prepare two sets of paperwork, one for briefing the recruit facing separation and the other consisting of the separation documents. When needed, legalmen will contact those recruits to ask questions and resolve unanswered questions.
In 2017, the legal department at RTC received about 6,100 cases for processing.
Once each week, Dominguez will meet with his separation cases for a legal briefing. When necessary, he will refer them to the Defense Service Office, which can assist them with advice and guidance.
Often their questions are unrelated to their specific case.
"They can ask some pretty far-fetched questions, but it's my job to try to set them on the right track," Dominguez said. "A lot of people think our job is to just separate people. Yes, it is our job, but as a petty officer, I also have another hat as a role model for Sailors. Although a lot of people are facing separation, while they're here, they're still Sailors. It's definitely worth our time, as Sailors, to go that extra mile to teach somebody something."
Sorgi credited Dominguez for his thoroughness, commitment to the mission, and concern about the people and things around him.
"LN2 Dominguez is invested in each of the recruits he ushers through the administrative separation process and treats each recruit with the utmost respect," Sorgi said. "His attention to detail ensures that the administrative separation packages are processed with a very high level of accuracy and are always a positive reflection of RTC. LN2 Dominguez cares about updating and advancing RTC's practices so we use the best tools and generate the best work product possible."
Another key member of the legal department is Noel Sengco, who serves as congressional, parental and special inquiries liaison for RTC. The legal department received approximately 7,100 parental inquiries and nearly 500 congressional inquiries in 2017.
"Mr. Sengco facilitates communications between families, recruits and a wide range of government entities when both unconventional and conventional legal matters arise," Sorgi said.
Sengco, who spent 20 years in the Navy before retiring as a chief master-at-arms, has been in his RTC position for 18 years. He's built a wealth of experience, knowledge and contacts across all levels of the Navy, government and civilian worlds. He's as comfortable briefing high-level government and military officials as he is talking with entry-level recruits and their families. In the rare instances when Sengco doesn't know the answer to an inquiry, he'll contact the person or organization to find the answer.
"Most of our recruits have had some issues even before they come here [to this office]," Sengco said. "As a legal office, we are in direct contact with anyone pertaining to those issues with the recruit, whether they are coming from the families, or relatives or parents, or maybe some law enforcement agency just looking for the recruit. So our job here is to make sure they have a lifeline; a connectivity."
The majority of inquiries come from parents and other family members. Sengco said it's important to respond to their phone calls and emails and he makes every effort to do so within 24 hours. Like every other member of the legal department, his release of information is governed by the Privacy Act of 1974, 5 U.S.C. section 552a. Letting them know what they can expect and what they should not expect is a vital part of his interaction.
"A phone call is a privilege here while in training," Sengco said. "They should know that, but most of the parents don't. They think their recruit comes here and they can make phone calls every day or get on the website or social media and start updating them about training here. That's not how it works. I always tell the parents that training is the first priority here. So when they call me and ask, 'Do you think you'll be able to talk to my son or daughter and try figure out how we're going to resolve this issue?,' well, it all depends on where they are in training right now, because this is a training command and the first priority is training."
Sengco's job doesn't end in answering questions. His goal, whenever possible, is to find solutions and resolve issues. For some recruits, it comes down to weighing options and reconsidering the choices they've made.
"I will ask them, 'Why did you join the Navy? [Was it] for the job or do you want to serve?' They say, 'I want to be here.' Then the Navy says you can't be in this program because of your classification or clearance. It's time for you to find another job. I will help you with that. What are you aiming for? It's not a guarantee, but I need to know."
Seeing those recruits return to training and graduate is a source of pride and satisfaction for Sengco.
"The most appreciative thing I get from this is the feedback from the parents," he said. "Every Friday, I have to hide from the graduation because there's so many that want to come to the office to thank me."
Dominguez also said helping recruits is the best part of his job. He recounted a story of a Sailor who needed additional attempts to pass her physical fitness assessment.
"I ran into her at Naval Station Great Lakes," Dominguez said. "She had just graduated 'A' school. I shook her hand and said, 'Congratulations.' I say the same thing to every recruit that gets returned to training, 'You were given an opportunity. Don't mess it up.' And they always reply, 'Yeah, I'm not going to.' And they know, they were this close to being separated."
Boot camp is approximately eight weeks and all enlistees into the U.S. Navy begin their careers at the command. Training includes physical fitness, seamanship, firearms, firefighting and shipboard damage control along with lessons in Navy heritage and core values, teamwork and discipline. About 38,000 to 40,000 recruits graduate annually from RTC and begin their Navy careers.
For more news from Recruit Training Command, visit http://www.navy.mil/local/rtc/.
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For more news from Recruit Training Command, visit www.navy.mil/local/rtc/.