Opinion Columns & Blogs

In an often-lawless land, law is upheld

Come Super Bowl Sunday in three weeks, beer will be flowing for our troops in Iraq. Well, not really. Each soldier will get exactly two beers to nurse or chug during the game. I know this through a conversation I had with Dan Dow, a North County resident serving his first tour in Iraq as a member of the Army National Guard.

Capt. Dow’s call came in around 9 a.m., which meant that it was 8 p.m. in Tallil, home of the Ali Air Base in southeastern Iraq, about 160 miles southeast of Baghdad and 140 miles northwest of Kuwait City. The base serves the Nasiriyah region, and it’s huge, covering 30 square miles, protected by 22 kilometers of security perimeter.

Dow works as a deputy DA for the county District Attorney’s Office (which has been treating wife Wendy and children Chloe and Jed to weekly dinners since his tour began in April), and this is his second deployment since 9/11; his first was a tour in Kosovo in 2003. He puts his legal expertise to use as a judge advocate general (JAG) in Iraq.

“I did a career change and went to law school at 31,” the 40-year-old Dow explained. His previous life included being a sales executive for Sun Microsystems, a Silicon Valley company that sold computers and technology before it was absorbed by Oracle last year.

He joined the Army Reserve in 1989. He started out as a radio operator and later became a linguist in Korea in 1992.

“The Army has become part of who I am. I had a four-year break and tended to miss it. My blood turns Army green; I’m proud to be able to serve our country.”

His blood may run Army green, but he also has military history running through his veins: “My great-great-grandfather served as a 1st lieutenant in Co. E, 4th Maine Infantry Regiment during the Civil War.”

A big part of what he does as a JAG is trial counsel for the brigade that includes military justice matters, some financial and administrative law and contract review. “Any time you have a large number of people, you’ll have corrective issues.”

He didn’t want to get into specifics, but explained that, “A lot of soldiers are young, with all the pressure of being in a combat zone and blowing off steam.” Most of his cases are minor infractions, such as use and possession of alcohol.

“We have to react 24/7, 365 days a year,” he said about alcohol use in Iraq. “So there’s a general order that you can only drink two beers on Super Bowl Sunday and two beers on the Army’s birthday.”

Ironically, according to Wikipedia, “The earliest Sumerian writings contain references to beer. A prayer to the goddess Ninkasi serves as both a prayer as well as a method of remembering the recipe for beer in a culture with few literate people.”

(The alcohol policy has been questioned by at least one senator. Last March, Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., a Vietnam vet who chairs the Senate Armed Services committee, wondered — in light of soldiers being deployed on multiple tours and the resultant widespread use of antidepressants — whether the alcohol ban should be lifted for “stress relief” purposes. His proposal received no traction.)

When not dealing with infractions, Dow’s outfit is what’s called a sustainment brigade, which “provides fuel, clean water, ammo and equipment. Our brigade has transportation and equipment to resupply troops. I’m one of three lawyers who help meet that mission.”

In case it may have escaped your notice, President Barack Obama changed the mission in Iraq from Operation Iraqi Freedom to Operation New Dawn.

The president signaled the end of a combat mission to one of stability operations, Dow explained. “Our whole mission is to support our Iraqi partners and improve their security.”

He’s confident that when the U.S. pulls out of Iraq, there will be challenges but that the Iraqis will rally under a new sense of security.

“From what I can tell, different ethnic groups have something in common: They want their children in a safe environment, they want to live in a place where you don’t drive down the street and get hit with a car bomb. Yet it’s going to take time; it takes generations to grow and mature.

“I’m really thankful to be a part in a small way of an important part of history, handing off a country that’s freer than when we found it, working with great people and unbelievably professional paralegals. Yet I’m very anxious to get home. I love the Central Coast and have the best job possible as a deputy DA” where he’s known around the office as the Barrister Barista for his love of espresso.

But, as he notes, each day is like the movie “Groundhog Day”: pretty much the same. He’s itching to get home for Chloe’s 6th birthday on April 1.

His New Year’s resolutions?

“To spend every possible moment with my wife and kids, to just enjoy them.”

Bill Morem can be reached at bmorem@thetribunenews.com or at 781-7852.