Tuesday, December 30, 2008

February 2009

I got my notice today that I have a seat reserved for the February 2009 course!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

OK, so why the ¨Blog¨?

I am writing this blog as there are so many people that I need to tell this story to...to share this new adventure with. And rather than send the same email over and over again, I figured I'd put it all here. It will be mostly my way of sharing what I am going through in the training...which for this 40 year old should be the greatest challenge of my life (...although I would place handling Enya's ¨3 year old¨ temper tantrums as pretty close...). I am now waiting to see if I make it into the February JAOBC...if so I report to Ft. Lee, Virginia on Feb. 8th and finish at Ft. Benning, Georgia on July 24th. I'll explain more of the process later...in case you are wondering about my girls...they will be with me for part of the training and probably in Mexico for the other part.

Friday, December 26, 2008

The ¨Why¨ part...

I actually have lots of reasons for wanting to do it. But first and foremost, I have always been interested in the military. I am a bit of a military history buff. My earliest memories of this are of the Sunday morning movies...the black and white WWII movies that came on exactly 1 hour before 11:ooam Mass. I never got to see the end of those movies as we always went to the 11am Mass...

I am sure that the Boy Scouts also helped. Scouting played a fairly big part of my early teens. Of special note was my first canoeing trip to Grayling, Michigan. The troop stayed on a US Army base for the week. The canoeing was great, but I think eating in the mess hall made the biggest impression on me. Dad was instrumental in that. I have many fond memories of the scouts.

Another thing was the fact that both Grandpa Gildea and Grandpa Gorman served during WWII. Neither spoke much of their experiences, but I always sensed a profound sense of pride in them on the subject. It was obvious that they enjoyed their time in the service. I remember trying on Grandpa Gildea's Navy uniform when I was in high school and it fit perfectly.

I even took a year's worth of ROTC courses at Xavier. But I never took it seriously.

For the past 5 years, I have worked for 2 refugee resettlement agencies. In this time, I have met people from nearly every country in the world. Many of them were refugees. In my first 2 years as a staff attorney, more than half of my clients were Cambodians who had survived the ¨killing fields¨ and been resettled in the US. Over the next 3 years, I met refugees from Vietnam, Laos, Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Cuba, Colombia, just to name a few. Their stories of survival are incredible. The dream of liberty and safety in the US is so very real to them. Those of us born here take so much for granted.

This past July, I won a political asylum trial for a woman from the Congo. Her story is horrific, but is so common to so many. It only took 3 hours to convince an immigration judge to grant her political asylum. Her husband was a local political activist, she was a seamstress with a small business making uniforms. One night, government agents came to her house, dragged her husband into the street and shot him in the leg. She feinted. She awoke in a hospital (a neighbor had taken her there). She proceeded to go to the local detention centers in search of her husband. She found the one where he had been taken. While asking for him, she was arrested and thrown into a cell. For the next 2 days, she was beaten and raped. She was told that her husband was dead (he had been killed earlier in the same facility). After the 2 days of torture, she was let go by a sympathetic guard. She hid her 2 children with a priest and, with his assistance, fled to the US and became a client of Catholic Charities in 1999. Because of a series of administrative screw-ups by the Border Patrol, it took us 9 years to get her case to trial. I was the third and final Charities lawyer on the case.

Frankly, after seeing a similar pattern repeated over and over again by various tyrants, I feel a need to be involved in an additional capacity...I am hoping that through the JAG Corps, I might get the chance to seek justice against those who commit these crimes, in addition to seeking safety and stability in the US for the victims of these crimes. It may be naive of me to think that I can accomplish this in the US Army, but I don't see many (any) other places to try. But I need to try.

However, in the near-term, I expect that my experience as an immigration lawyer will be predominantly used by the Army as there are many foreign-born (somewhere around 4% of the US Army...more than 18,000 soldiers) members. Most of them will be trying to become US citizens and many will have family members with a variety of immigration issues.

I could go on and on ad nauseum, but I think you get my drift...I am very hopeful that an Obama administration will use the military (and I guess that now includes ¨me¨!) more wisely. I think we should be in Sudan rather than Iraq, but that is for a different and more political post...


I would expect that to be the reaction from most of those who know me. I will try and explain how it happened and in as short summary form as possible. I would hope to eventually sit down with you and give the long version over drinks...

Shortly after Enya was born in September 2005, I had a bit of a panic. I was making just under $40K as a staff attorney at a refugee resettlement agency. Karina had gone back to work after her maternity leave and her mother, who came from Mexico to help us, was caring for Enya while we were at work. But she wasn't going to stay forever which meant either Karina quit working or we did daycare. We were not really psyched about sending her to daycare. We figured that 50% of her salary would go to pay someone else to raise our child, not to mention the 2 hours she spent commuting each day. So I started looking for a part-time lawyer job. The first one I saw online was the JAG Reserve. I was hooked.

Then, we were in Indiana for Christmas. While Karina, Enya, my Mom and Karina's Mom were hanging out in the kitchen (middle of the week...Dad was at work), I was aimlessly flipping through 100s of channels. I ended up on CSPAN of all things and came across a symposium on international war crimes at Georgetown Law. The 2 primary speakers were former JAG lawyers who had served in WWII and were involved in the Nuremberg trials. One of the gentlemen was a retired law professor from NYU and peace activist. I emailed him at the end of the program (which had been taped previously). He wrote me back the same day. We had a short exchange about the JAG in today's context of the war on terror. He encouraged me to apply to the JAG Corps. I requested the JAG brochure.

A month later, I learned that I would be in line for a promotion to the head attorney of the non-profit. I shelved the JAG, but it was always in my head. Karina's Mom went back to Mexico and Karina stopped working. About 2 months later, I was promoted and the increase in income allowed us to avoid daycare. It worked out perfectly.

When we were blessed with the birth of Grace in September 2007, I began thinking of my future. I had quit my old job and took the supervising attorney position at Catholic Charities...a dream position for me. Karina had put up with my day-dreaming about the JAG for about 2 years at this point and finally said ¨Do it or stop talking about doing it!¨ . So, in the beginning of 2008, I began the relatively arduous process of filling out forms and collecting documentation for my application.

I was interviewed by a Lieutenant Colonel from the 3d Legal Support Organization (my new unit which is based in Boston) in May 2008. I learned verbally that I was approved in October 2008 and got my official appointment letter in December 2008.

This explains the process for what I've done....not a short summary as promised. Next will be the ¨why¨ aspect....

It is official! I am in the Army now!

I was sworn in on December 21, 2008 as a 1st Lieutenant of the US Army Reserve, Judge Advocate General Corps. Karina, Enya and Grace rode with me through a snowstorm to a JAG Officer's home on this Sunday evening. The JAG Officer has been mentoring me for the past few months as I've awaited my formal paperwork. He had returned from a 6 month deployment to Germany about 2 hours earlier and graciously allowed us to intrude on his family reunion for my oath of office. I wanted it done so that I could get my oath into the Army asap in order to hopefully make the February 2009 Judge Advocate Officer Basic Course. We got it done and we left for Christmas in Mexico the morning of the 22nd.