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Bar News - September 17, 2004

Mortar Fire, Heavy Workload Challenges NH Military Lawyers in Iraq


In the Line of Duty

Editor's Note: This is Part 2 of a two-part feature on New Hampshire attorneys involved in the rebuilding of the justice systems in Iraq and Afghanistan or called up as members of the armed forces to support the peacekeeping/humanitarian efforts of the American-led coalition forces.

Part 1, which ran in the Sept. 3 issue of the Bar News, focused on civilian attorneys who volunteered for various legal-related programs and Part 2 highlights the activities of NH attorneys who are members of the National Guard or Reserves serving in those countries. If you are a Bar member who would like to have your story included in this series, contact Managing Editor Anita Becker at (603) 224-6942, ext. 129 or

NH Army National Guard Maj. John J. Coughlin, of Mont Vernon, and Capt. Shane R. Stewart, of Concord, are both serving on active duty in Iraq as judge advocates.

SEVERAL NEW HAMPSHIRE attorneys have recently traded their business suits and law practice routines for battle-dress uniforms and military duty, as they support the U.S. armed forces' peacekeeping and nation-building roles in assisting the newly formed sovereign government of Iraq. Long hours, hazardous conditions, extreme heat, and a strong sense of public service are the common threads that bind the following NH Bar members serving in Iraq.

NH Army National Guard Maj. John J. Coughlin, of Mont Vernon, gave up his post as Hillsborough County Attorney when he was tapped to be a command judge advocate for the 197th Field Artillery Brigade, based in Manchester. Deployed with the unit at the same time was Capt. Shane R. Stewart, a Concord attorney and trial counsel for the 197th FA Bde. Col. Gary E. Lambert is a Nashua attorney and activated Marine Corps Reservist currently serving as deputy staff judge advocate of the Multi-National Force-Iraq (MNFI). And, Staff Sgt. William A. Whitten, an attorney at the Decato Law Office in Lebanon, is serving as an infantryman with Company C, 3/172 Infantry (Mountain) Company, NH Army National Guard, on a military police mission.

Staff Sgt. William A. Whitten

Staff Sgt. William A. Whitten has been deployed in Iraq since late March. "My MOS is 11B (infantry), although we are serving as MPs (military police)," says the Upper Valley attorney. The Manchester-based Mountain Company is stationed at Logistics Sup port Area (LSA) Anaconda, an air base and major military compound approximately 50 miles north of Baghdad, where its mission is to provide police escort for night convoys.

Whitten primarily works in the company's tactical operations center. "Basically, we keep track of the convoys and assist in dispatching recovery assets, if needed," he explains. "Personally, I have been on several convoys; but, generally, my duties are confined to 'inside the wire.'" His working hours run from approximately 1:45 a.m. until 11:30 a.m. "As a staff sergeant, my work is unlike anything I have done as a member of the Bar." However, his civilian expertise isn't taken for granted. "Frequently, the Guard utilizes my legal training and I am happy to help."

Off-duty time is spent at the gym, reading, catching up on sleep, and escaping the 115-degree heat. But, when living and working in a war zone, there are inherent hazards. "We do receive mortar and rocket attacks on a nearly daily basis," Whitten says. "In April our base received more mortar and rocket attacks than any other in Iraq. Needless to say, we have learned to duck and to know the locations of all the bunkers and ditches!"

In 1985, at 37-years-old, Whitten joined the Guard. His age prohibited him from be coming an officer. "My intent was to have the Mountain Company experience for a year or two. Well, here I am 19 years later," he says. Prior to deploying, Whitten was a retention NCO (non-commissioned officer) at an administrative headquarters in Concord. "I felt that to have any credibility with the deployed troops I had to experience the same hardship as they do." So, he volunteered to go to Iraq with his former unit. "With respect to being a volunteer, I felt I had an obligation to serve after being in for 19 years. Deployment certainly extracts a price both personally and professionally. But, it is something that has to be done." He adds that his law firm and Peter Decato, a former Army JAG officer, have been very supportive of him.

Maj. John J. Coughlin

Maj. John Coughlin works in the same building as Lambert, in an office near the colonel's. "As a peacetime JAG, I provided legal advice to the brigade commander and legal assistance to the soldiers," says Coughlin, explaining the difference between his peacetime and wartime duties as a National Guard judge advocate. "In Baghdad, I am a legal advisor for III Corps Artillery C-3 EFFECTS Security Cell, mostly working on legal issues regarding the Iraqi National Guard (formerly called the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps)."

Col. Gary Lambert's primary job as a military judge advocate is to provide legal advice to Gen. Casey, the senior military official in Iraq.

Coughlin explains that he was also an investigating officer for one of the Abu Ghraib prison cases. The military uses the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) as its code of law. He describes the military legal process he was involved with as similar-"with some major differences"-to New Hampshire's grand jury process. Coughlin found that he was able to draw on his civilian expertise as Hillsborough County Attorney. "I have presented numerous cases to Hillsborough County grand juries, which has provided very useful experience in my role in this case."

Unlike Lambert, Coughlin does not have a civilian job to return to. The lawyer resigned his position as Hillsborough County Attorney because he knew he would soon deploy to Iraq for a significant period of time. "As County Attorney I understood and appreciated that the people of Hillsborough County needed and deserved a full-time county attorney who could carry out and execute the constitutional duties [of the office]," Coughlin explains.

The New Hampshire native joined the US Marine Corps more than 20 years ago, where he served on active duty as a judge advocate at Camp Pendleton, Calif. He left active duty at the rank of captain to return to the Granite State. "My wife and I both grew up in New Hampshire and the state has given us, and many people like us, opportunities for education, business, and quality of life that is truly New Hampshire," says Coughlin. "I joined the NH National Guard to continue my public service in gratitude to all the opportunities our great state has provided my family and many other families."

Capt. Shane R. Stewart

When not deployed in Iraq as a brigade judge advocate, Capt. Shane R. Stewart operates a solo law firm in Concord. An attorney since 1994, Stewart practices in all areas of law. "This deployment has forced me to temporarily close my law firm," he explains. "I had to withdraw from over 25 pending cases and terminate retainer agreements with over 100 clients."

Stewart has been deployed for more than eight months for Operation Iraqi Freedom II. He joined the NH Army National Guard in 1998, and was soon thereafter commissioned as a judge advocate. The Concord attorney says that he joined the military because "it was a good opportunity to practice law while serving my state and country."

The major difference Stewart sees between the civilian and military justice systems is in the area of criminal law. "The military offers criminal defendants more due process and procedural safeguards. Accordingly, and in my opinion, criminal convictions and sentences are fairer and, therefore, more just."

"During this deployment, I've actively practiced in all areas of military law, including: rules of engagement, law of war, administrative law, military criminal law, claims (for damage and loss of property or personal injuries or death caused by U.S. Army negligence), fiscal law, and immigration (some U.S. soldiers here are not U.S. citizens), and legal services (wills, powers of attorney, family law, insurance, taxation, immigration, debt and consumer credit, etc.)," explains Stewart.

Stewart is stationed at Camp Cedar II in central Iraq. "There are no trees or grass; there is lots of dirt and dust. It's hot and austere. Imagine living in a tent in the middle of Death Valley and you'd have a pretty good idea of what it's like here."

Stewart puts in long hours. "I work seven days a week-14 hours a day-there are no days off for me. I am the only judge advocate at Camp Cedar II." He provides legal opinions, guidance, training and services to commanders and soldiers of the 197th and its three battalions, from South Carolina, South Dakota, and West Virginia, as well as to other soldiers and government contractors at the military compound.

"Working constantly with no days off, being away from home for a year, not getting blown-up or shot on the way to court, practicing law in a tent" are Stewart's routine challenges. Below, he describes a typical day in court:

"Earlier this week, I had to convoy seven hours to Baghdad to conduct a sentencing hearing involving a US soldier who assaulted another US soldier with a deadly weapon. The roads in Iraq are dusty, the temperature outside is hot, and it is dangerous. The enemy tries to kill us with Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPGs) and by shooting at us with the AK-47 rifle. Imagine driving to court in a cloud of dust, with temperatures inside the HUMVEE as high as 150 degrees, and wondering whether the object in the middle of the road is a bomb or the person on the hilltop in the distance is getting ready to shoot a grenade or bullet in your direction. Once you arrive at the courthouse, you take off all of your gear (which weighs about 40 pounds), walk into court dirty, sweaty and tired, set down your M-16 rifle on the courtroom floor, and give an opening statement or start arguing legal issues with opposing counsel."

Col. Gary E. Lambert

Col. Gary Lambert explains that his primary job is to provide legal advice to Gen. Casey, the senior military official in Iraq, and other generals within his command on a multitude of strategic issues. "I also have a lot of involvement with Detention Operations (the law with respect to persons detained by coalition forces)," says Lambert, who supervises a staff of 19 attorneys. A typical workweek for Lambert and his colleagues is grueling. "We work every day here. Some days are long, up to 14 hours, and some days are shorter-about 10 hours.

Although Lambert's military occupation sounds as if it keeps him safe from the action at the frontlines, there are constant reminders that he is in a war zone. The Al Faw Palace, just outside downtown Baghdad, receives regular mortar and sniper fire.

"I went for an afternoon run after I wrote you and heard a bullet 'crack' above me as I was running around this one place that leaves you exposed to the 'bad guys' on the other side of the wall," says Lambert, in an e-mail response to the author. "I've been a runner since junior high school, but have never been shot at before while running. I guess there is always a first for everything."

Three New Hampshire attorneys reunited in Iraq when NH Army National Guard Maj. John Coughlin, stationed at the Camp Victory military base outside of downtown Baghdad, stopped by to visit Chris Reid, center, in the Baghdad state department offices, where Mike Gunnison also worked.

Lambert, a registered patent attorney, has an intellectual property practice that operates in Nashua and Boston. "The biggest challenge here is that it is more dangerous than back home." He decided to keep the office open while deployed because he has confidence that his five associates "can keep the firm going very well while I am away." He adds that his clients are understanding and supportive of his service.

  When asked why he takes on the extra burden of juggling military and civilian careers, Lambert-who was also deployed for Operation Desert Storm and in Europe last year as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom-simply says: "I joined the Marine Corps when I was 19 and have been in for over 25 years. I love serving my country and being a Marine."

The Rule of Law

These civilian and military attorneys are risking their lives to help restore justice and keep the peace in nations devastated by years of brutal totalitarian regimes and a culture of governmental corruption. Although the NH Bar members featured in this two-part series of articles each has unique reasons for ultimately working in Iraq or Afghanistan, one thing they share is a desire to share their knowledge and love of the law. Assisting in restoring the rule of law and keeping the peace in these turbulent countries goes beyond establishment of a just legal system in that it offers hope and a basis for improving the overall social condition for the Iraqi and Afghani people.

Read Part I of this article: NH Lawyers Work to Restore Rule of Law in Iraq, Afghanistan.


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