Combat JAGs share deployed experiences

  • Published
  • By Sheila Rupp
  • Nucleus Journalist
Tech. Sgt. Richard Cusack and Tech. Sgt. Lora Bright are paralegals in the 377th Air Base Wing legal office here, but both recently spent time as combat JAGs in Iraq. 

Sergeant Cusack was stationed in Baghdad at the U.S. Embassy Central Criminal Court, Iraq, from June 2005 to October 2005. During the last month of his deployment he was at the Abu Ghraib prison. Sergeant Bright was deployed to Camp Victory from the end of February 2006 to July 2006. 

When most people think of those in the legal field they wouldn't normally expect them to be in combat situations, but Sergeants Cusack and Bright say that the experiences they gained while deployed have changed them as people and made them appreciate the freedoms and luxuries that Americans have even more. 

"My patience is so much better now. There are no mortars coming in when we're sitting in traffic, so I'm not as impatient. We take for granted some of the small stuff and conveniences we have here. There's just no sense in getting worked up," Sergeant Cusack said. 

When deployed, combat JAGs are not sure where they will be assigned until in country. On his second day in country, Sergeant Cusack was with a group that needed to go into the camp and got a ride in from other troops and found himself out on combat patrol. 

Combat JAGs could be transporting files from camps to courts, accompanying detainees or picking up court workers, among other things, many of which are outside of the usual scope of their jobs on base. Although there are deployed duties that are very similar to those that paralegals do every day at a traditional duty station, Sergeants Cusack and Bright were working for the Army and their situations were very different from the jobs they do every day. 

Sergeant Cusack said that the Iraqi judicial system is based on the French system, which made the process of trials, and proceedings very different than what takes place in military courts here. He said the job of attorneys and judges there is to determine the truth, which means that if an attorney believes their client is guilty, the attorney will argue for the maximum sentence. While Sergeant Cusack was deployed, he helped to create a plea bargaining program, something that was very new to the Iraqi people. 

Sergeant Bright was in country while the Iraqi government took over from Coalition Forces. Capt. Justin Silverman, also of the legal office here was also on the tour with Sergeant Bright. All three Airmen processed out of Norfolk, Va. 

Sergeant Bright says she vividly remembers an incident during a convoy coming back into the camp where another convoy had identified an improvised explosive device. 

Sergeant Bright also deployed to Kyrgyzstan from June 2004 through September 2004, where she served as a law office manager. While in Kyrgyzstan, Sergeant Bright was able to do volunteering for humanitarian efforts and honor guard, but in Iraq she said there wasn't much free time as they were working 12- to 18-hour days. Though the deployment to Kyrgyzstan was drastically different than the one to Iraq, she said she would do both deployments again. 

Sergeant Bright said that the experience made her learn to count and rely on co-workers, Wingmen and forces from other branches. Both sergeants say that the experience was interesting because it helped them to see how the other branches of the U.S. armed forces work and that they appreciate the Air Force even more than they did. 

Both Sergeants Cusack and Bright said they will never forget the experiences they had while deployed, despite how fast they say the time seemed to go. 

"You're dreading being there for all of the time and it just goes by in flash. I don't think I'll every forget it, but it went by fast," Sergeant Bright said.
Sergeant Cusack said, "I really believe in the mission we're doing over there. Regardless of what you hear, the Iraqis really want us there and appreciate our help."