Despite turbulent times, they’ve said “Send me”: meet the Air Force’s newest Lieutenants!

Yesterday (January 5th) I had the honor of commissioning William May and Kara Iskenderian as First Lieutenants (1Lt) in the U.S. Air Force. Both of these wonderful new officers are Class of 2018 Duke Law grads (and they were married in August). Now that they have both passed the bar they will become military lawyers (called judge advocates or “JAGs”).

They will start their military careers tomorrow at Commissioned Officers Training at Maxwell Air Force Base (AFB), Alabama.  Once that’s completed, they will begin the Judge Advocate Staff Officer Course (JASOC) at the Air Force’s Judge Advocate General’s School, which is also at Maxwell AFB.  

Here’s a bit about them:

1Lt Iskenderian grew up on Long Island before she attended Tufts University. There she majored in political science and history and became an avid marathon runner (despite the cold). Next, she attended Duke Law where she was president of the National Security Law Society and worked for the Wrongful Convictions Clinic. After her first year, Kara interned with the Office of the Chief Prosecutor of the Military Commissions. Later, she externed with the XVIII Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg and was a summer associate at Hogan Lovells LLP. Following completion of training, Kara will be stationed at Lackland AFB in San Antonio.

Kara shared these observations about her journey to becoming a military lawyer:

I was drawn to a career with the Air Force JAG Corps because it is a job whose mission gives me a strong sense of purpose everyday as well as an opportunity to develop my legal skills in a fast paced and challenging environment. I am so excited to begin my career as an Air Force JAG!  

While I came to Duke Law interested in the JAG Corps, I could not have realized my aspiration without the support and guidance I found there. General Dunlap, my peers, and many other professors taught me an enormous amount about law, but, more importantly (depending on who you ask) shaped my broader understanding of who I am as a person and as a lawyer. 

1Lt May grew up in Winston-Salem, North Carolina and attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, graduating with a double major in Economics and Political Science in 2012. William then joined the Teach for America Corps and taught math in Mississippi for three years before applying to law school. During law school William participated in the innocence project and Wrongful Convictions Clinic, traveled to Atlanta and New Orleans for Southern Justice Spring Break trips, completed externships with the XVIII Airborne Corps JAG office at Fort Bragg and the US Attorneys Office in Raleigh, and was the leader of the Lawyer-on-the-Line legal aid organization. Over his summers William worked at the US Attorney’s Office in New Hampshire and was a Summer Associate at Bracewell LLP in New York. Following Officer Training he will be stationed at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, TX.

William also shared some thoughts about becoming a military lawyer:

When I came to law school I knew that I wanted a career in public service—I just needed an avenue for that pursuit. At Duke, I was able to meet many current and former JAG Officers at all stages of their respective careers.

When I would talk with them about their work (and get to know them as people), I realized that these were the professionals I wanted as colleagues and mentors.  

I gave them each a Judge Advocate badge that I had worn while on active duty. While they technically can’t wear it until they complete JASOC, I hope it will bring them as much happiness as being a JAG brought me over my 34 years in the Air Force.

After the brief ceremony (and completing the paperwork!) my wife (Joy) and I hosted the new lieutenants for brunch at the Washington Duke Inn. The staff there graciously presented Kara and William with a special dessert to honor their commitment to public service.

I’m grateful that these two terrific Duke Law grads are entering public service, especially at this moment in our history. Last September Kathy Kathy Roth-Douquet wrote a must-read article in Foreign Policy (found here) where she pointed out that “military service is a unifying force in a time of deep division.” She explained:

In the military, and in a military family, you learn to do something very hard and not of your own choosing, for a cause bigger than yourself. You’re working for a cause determined by the mechanisms of democracy, standing side by side with others who are fully committed. Current U.S. civilian life has a striking absence of “common causes”—tasks that remind us that there is more that unites us than divide us.

There is a joy in treating the person next to you as more important than you are, regardless of any external identity, political position, or family background.

What makes every serviceperson valuable is not their wealth, SAT score, or political opinions, but that they have sworn to support and defend, as well as bear true faith and allegiance to the U.S. Constitution, no matter the personal cost.

Roth-Douquet decries the fact that “far fewer than 1 percent of top college graduates… have or will serve in the military.” She argues that:

[T]he narrowness of today’s military recruitment has also damaged what was once one of its critical, if unstated, functions. It hurts the United States, because Americans lack the glue to bind the country that serving together and learning to respect difference creates. World War II movies made it a cliche—how city slickers and country bumpkins learned to respect and champion one another through the crucible of service. Nothing has replaced that.

In 2011 Colin Powell wrote an essay about military service in general that I think can help explain why it can work to bring together people who think that they have nothing in common:

Over the years, Americans have chosen to serve for many reasons—during the Revolutionary War, to create a nation; in World War II, to save humanity from destruction; at various times, to help pay for college. Still, no matter the motivation, once our men and women joined up, they’ve given their all for our country.

But GIs are driven by another allegiance that is just as fierce: to their buddies. During training, they learn to rely on each other for food, for security, for support. They know that they will live, and possibly die, together as a squad of five or nine. It’s a form of bonding you can’t find anywhere else. (Emphasis added.)

Of course, there are many great ways to serve the country beyond military service, but service in uniform is something special. It’s a real adventure that gives those who join lots of interesting opportunities, and can take them to fascinating places around the globe. 

Still, even in the JAG Corps, it does carry risks that you don’t typically find in the legal profession. That makes a difference: in 2009 former President Barack Obama was extremely insightful when he asked:

What tugs at a person until he or she says “Send me”? Why, in an age when so many have acted only in pursuit of the narrowest self-interest, have the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines of this generation volunteered all that they have on behalf of others? Why have they been willing to bear the heaviest burden?

Whatever it is, they felt some tug; they answered a call; they said “I’ll go.” That is why they are the best of America, and that is what separates them from those of us who have not served in uniform — their extraordinary willingness to risk their lives for people they never met. (Emphasis added.)

Despite many other career options, Kara and William have made the extraordinary decision to serve their country in uniform, to be part of something bigger than themselves, in order to try to make the world a better place.

They’ve each joined the 1% of the nation who’ve said “I’ll go.” That really means something in these turbulent times.

We pray for their safety, and wish them all the best as they begin what I know will be magnificent careers of service to the nation!


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