Veterans Day is a day to celebrate, says retired Air Force Lt. Col. Sally Stenton, a Rutgers Law alumnus who had a tragic experience in Afghanistan helping other veterans fighters
By Sam Starnes GSN’04
Sally Stenton was serving as the US Air Force’s Judge Advocate General (JAG) in Afghanistan in 2011 when a gunman massacred eight of her fellow Airmen and an American civilian contractor she was working with. She lost close comrades that day, including her best friend. “It goes without saying that it was not just the worst day of my life, but the worst of a lot of people’s lives,” she said.
Due to a last-minute change in assignment, Stenton, who earned a JD from Rutgers Law School in Camden in 1990 before beginning his Air Force legal career, was not in his office across the hall from the Afghan command and control center in Kabul where the massacre took place. “I suffered for a very long time, and I still suffer, to some extent, from survivor’s guilt,” Stenton says. “I wondered why I survived, and they didn’t.”
When Stenton retired from the Air Force the following year, she found a way to ease the pain of her loss by helping other veterans. She has been certified to represent veterans seeking VA compensation and retirement benefits from the US Department of Veterans Affairs. Since then, she has represented hundreds of veterans in claims and appeals. In 2021 alone, she’s helped 75 of her veteran clients earn over $1 million in rewards. “I found my purpose, my passion in life,” she says. “In the eight years I’ve been doing this, I’ve heard that I’ve helped so many veterans, and I love it. I know that I have changed the lives of veterans.
Stenton, a Cherry Hill native who now lives in Winslow, New Jersey, was working as an investigator for the Camden County District Attorney’s Office and serving in the National Guard in the late 1980s when she applied to Rutgers Law School in Camden. After earning her law degree, she went on to an accomplished 21-year career in the Air Force, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. She spent about half of her service overseas. In addition to Afghanistan, she served in Germany, Turkey and Kuwait. Since retiring, she has taught a “military law” course as an adjunct faculty member at Rutgers Law in Camden.
In addition to representing veterans today, she is involved in veterans’ organizations and supports veterans’ causes. She recently attended a ceremony in Washington commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Military Women’s Memorial at the entrance to Arlington National Cemetery. When this memorial opened in 1997, she was there with her mother, Dolores (Katz) Stenton, a veteran who had served in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) and Women’s Army Corps (WAC) during World War II. world. The recent celebration, Stenton says, was her late mother’s 103rd birthday.
Although Memorial Day is sad for her, Stenton says she celebrates Veterans Day “like it’s bigger than my birthday.” It’s my vacation. I spend it with friends, and I go out for breakfast, I go out for lunch, I go out for dinner.
She says the reason she remains committed to celebrating veterans is simple. “We wouldn’t have our country without our veterans,” Stenton said. “Rutgers is one of the oldest universities in our country. It is thanks to the military who protect our country that we have these institutions of higher learning. We are a democracy today, and it is thanks to our veterans. I’ve been to foreign countries that don’t have the right to vote, don’t have a free press, don’t have freedom of religion, and don’t have institutions of higher learning. Veterans are the reason we have places like Rutgers.
Explore resources for veterans who are Rutgers University alumni.