Al Asad Air Base, Iraq --
We are currently mobilized U.S.
Army reservists with the 804th Medical Brigade out of
the former Fort Devens in Ayer. We deployed to Iraq in February and
will remain here until later this fall.
As the command judge advocate for the brigade, Rich Sugarman is
the legal advisor to the commander over all Army medical units in
Iraq, as well as subordinate commanders and staffs. This is a force
of more than 1,500 soldiers who provide world-class medical care to
service members throughout Iraq. The responsibilities are shared
with Jerry Parisella, the deputy command judge advocate. Jerry,
recently elected state representative from Beverly, also maintains
a law practice in Beverly.
Whatever legal issues arise, we tackle. As a medical unit, we
regularly advise our clients on -- and are often asked by other
lawyers to assist on -- medical issues, such as HIPAA, medical
provider misconduct, medical research issues, purchases and
servicing of medical equipment, informed consent and "against
medical advice" waivers. Unique military medical matters we work
with our clients on include reviewing who U.S. forces can
For instance, as the Iraqi military becomes self sufficient, the
U.S. government expects the Iraqis to provide for their own medical
care and not to bring patients to U.S. facilities. U.S. troops will
provide care for certain seriously ill or injured patients, but
there are very strict guidelines in place and a strict procedure to
request exception to this policy. As the lawyers, we become
involved in guiding providers and leadership through this
As any military organization, we also handle criminal law,
international law, contract law, administrative law and ethics
issues. The most significant criminal case involved an
alcohol-fueled sexual assault that our office prosecuted.
Additionally, because of the unique environment and safety
concerns, the military prohibits alcohol in theatre, and we
routinely become involved in prosecutions of soldiers who sneak
alcohol into theatre.
Both of us come from law firm backgrounds: Rich generally
handled business litigation, employment and environmental law,
while Jerry handled litigation and real estate matters. So, this
deployment has broadened our legal experiences significantly.
However, our Army Reserve training has prepared us well for this
experience and, of course, all lawyers need to know how to research
any legal issue.
The Army provides us with Westlaw accounts and the Judge
Advocate General Corps has many great secondary resources
available. Although most of our primary and secondary resources are
available online, they are not always available, due to
connectivity issues, so we rely very heavily on DVDs provided by
the JAG Corps that contain nearly every pertinent military
regulation, as well as treatises summarizing aspects of every major
subject area a military lawyer is likely to encounter, along with
citations to primary sources.
The JAG Corps functions very much like a law firm. Although we
are assigned to a unit and work for the unit commander, the senior
lawyers at the next command level up from us consistently provide
us the guidance and mentorship necessary to excel as legal
professionals. Although we have been located at the same base as
our senior lawyers, not all of the other lawyers are so close. So,
we regularly have conference calls with JAGs throughout Iraq in
which we discuss ongoing legal issues and have sort of a mini CLE
on issues of importance.
As Massachusetts natives, it was a challenge getting used to
temps over 125 degrees. Personally and professionally, no two days
are the same. Our first six months in Iraq were spent near Baghdad
at a large base that was regularly shelled by enemy forces.
Fortunately, neither of us had a particularly close call, but any
shelling in the area is dangerous and frankly, scary. But, it was
one of those things where we just put it out of our minds and did
what we needed to do.
One of the most memorable experiences that highlights the
practice of law here came when we were both on a conference call
with other lawyers stationed in Iraq when we started getting
shelled. We heard the explosions and did what we are supposed to
do -- fall to the ground and lie flat. We eventually evacuated
the area and ran to a hardened bunker. We returned to find the
conference call still going on. The irony was that the lawyer
heading up the conference call had been in the building that was
hit (a former Saddam Hussein palace) and he had no idea. Just
another day here.
The most difficult part of this deployment has been missing our
families. We both have young children who will have changed
considerably by the time we are home. We have been able to Skype
and call home routinely, if not daily. As hard as the separation
has been, we both agreed a long time ago to deploy if asked by the
We are very fortunate that in the Army, like the civilian world,
we are lawyers. Practicing law here has been challenging and
interesting. We are better lawyers for the experience by broadening
and further developing our legal skills and providing legal advice
to senior decision-makers in incredibly stressful circumstances,
where legal issues can have great repercussions beyond the clearly
Editor's note: In honor of Veterans
issue includes the firsthand
account of two Massachusetts lawyers
serving in Iraq as U.S. Army reservists.
Editor's note: Jerry Parisella, a U.S. Army
veteran, was on active duty from 1997-98 in Bosnia as a public
Richard Sugarman, a U.S. Air Force veteran,
served on active duty
from 1993-97 as a space
and missile operations officer.