I was 27 when this picture was taken. When I went to law school, I joined the Virginia Army National Guard. After about a year, I became a Battery Commander. This was the picture that was hung in our offices so the men would know who their leader was.
Of course, looking at the picture now, I am struck by how young I was. That was 40 years and at least 40 pounds ago. It is also amusing to me that I looked so seriously military.
After finishing college, I served three years on active duty in the Army. I was a Field Artillery officer in the 101st Airborne Division at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky. That was challenging.
The truth is that I was not a good lieutenant.
On the one hand, my artillery skills were decent. Using slide rules, plotting boards and no small amount of trigonometry, I could calculate firing data quickly and accurately. (That is surprising for someone as math challenged as I am.) I could set up the guns – referred to as laying the battery. I was even a competent forward observer. I could get the rounds on target usually with only a couple of adjustments. It helped hugely that I had excellent map skills in my last year when I was the battalion adjutant (administrative officer), I proved quite adept at navigating - and at times manipulating - the bureaucracy.
On the other hand, no one would accuse me of having much military bearing. I could shine my boots in the morning, and they would be scuffed by the time I got to the unit. I swear I could be standing still, and my uniform would just develop multiple new wrinkles. When it came to drill and ceremony, I frequently had trouble distinguishing my left foot from my right.
Shortly before I got off active duty, the battalion Sergeant Major – a grizzled Vietnam veteran who had a speech affect because of a severe facial wound – told me that (unlike many lieutenants) he liked me because I “got stuff done” - often without strictly observing the applicable rules - but I was a “natural civilian” and “not a soldier.” It was a good thing for the Army and me that I was going to law school.
I was a bit offended, but I could not say that the Sergeant Major was wrong.
My time in the National Guard was enlightening, albeit for distinct reasons. There, I was quickly labeled as a “Regular Army A**hole.” My colleagues at Ft. Campbell would have gagged drinking their beer hearing me described as such. Nevertheless, the 101st had taught me well, and the old boys in the Guard did not appreciate it at all. (There was, perhaps, an element of youthful arrogance on my part.) I became a Battery Commander after only a year. That was quite unusual, but it was because I was kicked upstairs. The unit was deemed a problem which no one else wanted. All expected it would undo me in short order. That did not happen, but that is a story for another time.
I am glad I served.
My time in the Army was formative. In no small part, it made me who I am. My success as a lawyer runs in a straight line from those experiences.
And let us be real, as an artillery officer I had all the makings of a great lawyer.
On this Veterans Day let us thank all veterans for their service (even those of us who did the military a favor by getting out). The reality is that we owe our freedom to those men and women who have been willing to serve. It is said that when you take that oath and put on the uniform you are giving the government a blank check – payable in any amount, up to and including your life. That notion is well worth remembering.