AFGHANISTAN - As an Assistant State’s Attorney for Prince George’s County, I enjoyed being in court and serving the State of Maryland. But I thought that I could do more for our Country. So in 2003, I joined the Army as a member of the Judge Advocate General Corps, first as a Reservist, and, in 2005, on Active Duty. Most of my family and friends thought that I was a little crazy when I told them that I was going to enter the Army. In many respects, it was a ridiculous idea since our nation was involved in two wars and it seemed like the end was nowhere in sight.
I never wanted to be a career soldier, I just wanted to do my part during a time of war and return to civilian life. I viewed military service as an Army lawyer in our post-9/11 world as an opportunity to be at the forefront of a new set of legal issues that our nation and world have never seen before.
I was assigned to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, home of the 101st Airborne (Air Assault) Division. In April 2007, I became the Chief of the International and Operational Law Section. For 11 months leading up to my deployment to Afghanistan, I served as the legal advisor for the Division planners, developing the upcoming campaign plan – the plan that would define our goals and how we would measure success during our 15 months in Afghanistan. I advised on the military decision-making process and discovered that modern warfare was about more than standing at a fixed position and firing at some guy in front of you. I advised the Division planning cell that developed the plan that outlines how the Division would act in each situation.
Upon arriving in Afghanistan, the focus of my job shifted from planning the campaign plan to interpreting the Rules of Engagement (ROE). The ROE are directives issued by competent military authority that delineate the circumstances and limitations under which United States Military forces will initiate and/or continue combat engagement with other forces they encounter. Stated plainly, I advise the Commanding General and his staff on when U.S. forces can and should shoot or drop bombs and when we should show restraint.
I am presently stationed at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan. As the Chief of the International and Operational Law Section, I am tasked with reviewing each offensive military operation to determine whether that operation complies with the applicable rules of engagement and the international laws of armed conflict. I am asked daily to opine on when and where we can engage targets. While my primary focus is to provide legal advice to the command staff on the ROE, I also provide legal advice on a myriad of legal issues, including Rule of Law, employment of contractors, Contract and Fiscal Law, Administrative Law and Detention Operations.
Sometimes the issues are rather simple – questions such as, “Are we legally required to provide medical treatment to insurgents after an engagement with U.S. forces?” The answer under customary and statutory international law is that we are required to treat enemy wounded in battle with the same standard of care that we treat our own soldiers. Telling the Commanding General that answer is easy, especially when the weather is good, the battle is over and a clear decisive victory in battle was scored by the U.S. But the response can be more difficult in the situation where the weather is bad and to save the life of one enemy soldier you risk the lives of an entire helicopter medical evacuation crew.
Often, the questions are more ambiguous and consequences are far more lethal. I am asked to apply the ROE in different situations to determine whether we can (or cannot) lethally target someone. In an instant, I am asked to interpret the ROE and apply them to specific situations where enemy and Coalition lives are at stake.
Most of each day is spent reviewing operations, ensuring that each offensive operation complies with the laws of armed conflict and the complex sets of rules of engagement that we are legally required to follow. The rest of my day is spent monitoring ongoing operations and remaining on stand-by for questions that may arise as the operations develop.
In a few months, I will return to civilian life. I will return to the daily grind of a normal nine-to-five (or eight-to-eight, if I am like most lawyers that I know), working in a law office, most likely litigating – but I will never forget the lessons I learned while on duty in Afghanistan while our nation was at war.
Cpt. I. DeAndrei Drummond presently serves in Afghanistan as a member of the Combined Joint Task Force 101.