God Bless our Dawgs in the military; a note from Will Keyes, Judge Advocate General for the U.S. Army.
Friends and Family,
I hope you are all doing well. Most everyone receiving this email knows that I am about 4 months into deployment as a Judge Advocate General for the United States Army. While I’ve communicated with some of you during the past few months, I figured it was about time that I sent out an update to the many people who have supported me along the way. For those of you that I haven’t spoken to in some time, I’ll do my best to explain how a UGA Chi Phi fratdog ended up practicing law for the Army in combat zones on the other side of the world.
Growing up in Atlanta and attending UGA provided a great foundation for my life. Following law school, I certainly appreciated the lifestyle of private practice law but began to realize that I felt called to do something that would make more of a lasting impact. I explored the option of the JAG Corps and decided to pursue it before the window of opportunity for this sort of life adventure expired. I’ve always been in awe of the U.S. Military but serving never seemed to fit my life track until I found the JAG Corps, which exists in all branches of the military. Navy? Not a huge fan of sitting on boats for longer than a fishing trip. But, Army? The backbone of the military. I learned that basic training for JAGs is at Fort Benning and the JAG School is at the University of Virginia. It was a risk, but I was sold. I applied to the Army JAG Corps in the fall of 2014, was accepted on Christmas Eve 2014, attended basic training and JAG School from October 2015 to February 2016, and deployed to the Middle East the day after Thanksgiving 2016.
So, I’m now over 7,000 miles from Atlanta learning and doing more than I ever expected at 30. I also didn’t expect to be sleeping in a bunk in a room with 60 other guys, but that’s part of it. Over here, we work on missions in Iraq, Jordan, and Afghanistan. Although I’m currently writing you from Bagram Airfield in the Parwan Province of Afghanistan, I spend a majority of my time at Camp Arifjan, in the middle of the desert of southern Kuwait. Camp Arifjan is a massive logistics base that serves as the headquarters of our forward operations in the Middle East. It’s a strange combination of looking like the surface of the moon with military vehicles all over the place, while also having familiar comforts like Taco Bell in a sandy trailer (I have yet to try a Middle Eastern Cheesy Gordita Crunch, but I’m tempted).
The Coalition fight against ISIS, or Combined Joint Task Force, is based out of Camp Arifjan and is made up of allied nations including the UK, Jordan, Germany, Australia, France and Canada to name a few. We serve beside these soldiers so I regularly see and sit at lunch by individuals speaking a language very different from my own. Camp Arifjan is mostly U.S. Army but the Marines, Navy, and Air Force have a presence here as well. In fact, my first bunkmate was an Air Force Captain who was conducting drone strikes on a night shift. Turns out he was previously stationed at Eglin Air Force Base in Fort Walton, so we bonded over our shared appreciation for a rooftop beer at Bud and Alley’s. Outside the armed gates of Arifjan is desert as far as the eye can see, and the base is covered in a powdery sandy substance that people call “moon dust”. I must say, I prefer the sand on 30A.
While I still spend a lot of time doing legal work at a desk, my day-to-day looks a lot different than it did while at home. I live in transient soldier housing (not a tent) which is a luxury as it’s one of the only housing buildings with indoor plumbing. I sleep in a large room, or “bay”, separated into small cubicles with bunks, accompanied by the smell of unwashed military gear with the constant sound of flatulence.
I tend to start my morning doing group PT or going to the gym and have my meals in the DFAC (Dining Facility). I’ve got decent Internet, so FaceTime has been my main connection to home. Free time is very limited due to the workload, but I have read some books, watched Netflix, gotten involved with a Bible study and made some good friends. Our office is centrally located so I spend my days there tackling the influx of projects that come across the Commander’s desk. My technical job title is Primary Legal Advisor to the Brigade Special Troops Battalion with the 3rd Army aka “Patton’s Own” serving the CENTCOM Area of Operation, in support of Operation Inherent Resolve… a military jargon mouthful, I know. What that means practically is the equivalent of being the in-house counsel for our Commander. In this role, I have a very diverse set of job duties and expectations and I’m grateful to have an incredibly supportive leadership team who have helped make this transition relatively easy.
The general range of tasks that I’m working on include Military Justice cases, Fiscal Law projects, International Law, and Legal Assistance. It’s hard to explain the details of what that can entail, but here are a few examples of what I’ve been working on since deploying: representing a soldier facing financial liability for damaging a Patriot Missile Launching System while rotating live missiles; reviewing international agreements with State Department representatives at the U.S. Embassy in Kuwait City; counseling privates struggling with marital stress created by deployment and separation; approving Explosive Ordinance Disposal Unit construction contracts; untangling contractual issues between countries on a tactical communication network…I’ve also made many pots of coffee for the nice Captains down the hall. As the only First Lieutenant on our team, I’ll certainly be ready for my promotion to Captain in the coming months.
We are so lucky to be Americans and being out here helps you realize that it is not something to take for granted. I have increased appreciation for the work that Infantrymen, Rangers, and Special Forces do. These men and women are heroes and I am proud that my job allows me to support them while they protect everyone else.
I’m truly grateful for my supportive parents, family and friends. Most importantly, my fiancée, Margaret has amazed me with her
strength and grace through all of this. She often gets what is left of me after stressful days from over 7,000 miles and 8 time zones away. I’m so lucky to have her, and am looking forward to calling her Mrs. Keyes when I get back home.
There’s lots to look forward to, but still many challenges to face in the next 7 months. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the emails, letters, prayers, and packages. I miss and love you all, and can’t wait for a hug and a cold beer at Roadhouse soon.
Go Dawgs, SVNV, and God Bless the United States of America,
A Note from Will Keyes, Judge Advocate General for the U.S. Army