Duke Law grad’s letter from the battle against ISIS: public service in uniform

With COVID-19 dominating the news these days, we can sometimes forget there are young Americans deployed ‘downrange’ for the fight against the still-dangerous Islamic State remnants – and to stand guard against Iran and its proxies.  One of those soldiers is a Duke Law class of 2017 grad, Gabrielle “Gabs” Lucero, now an Army captain in the Judge Advocate General Corps.

It’s perfect timing to get an update from Gabs as this week Duke Law recognizes graduating 3Ls for their participation in various pro bono projects and public interest programs, all orchestrated by Assistant Dean of Public Interest and Pro Bono, Stella Boswell and her terrific team.

When Gabs was here at Duke, she was an authentic pro bono/public interest superstar.  When she won the prestigious Pro Bono Publico Award, Dean Boswell said:

with Dean Boswell and Kim Burrucker, Dir., Office of Public Interest & Pro Bono

“I don’t know how Gabs manages to do it all…She came into law school with clear career goals and focus, and has helped build and support the public interest community here through involvement with the Government and Public Service Society, recruiting others to be involved in GPS and pro bono, repeatedly sitting on panels to advise other students, and taking time to consult with us on expansions to public interest and pro bono at Duke. The depth of Gabs’ commitment to service is really outstanding.”

after Gabs’ 2017 commissioning

Gabs did all that while also completing ROTC as a law student, and gaining her commission upon graduation (along with winning her unit’s Leadership Award!).  It was no surprise to me that she was selected as the 2017 JD Student speaker at Duke Law’s hooding ceremony.

I had the opportunity to catch-up with Gabs this week, and she filled me in on her current activities:

“I am currently deployed to Kuwait as a National Security Law Attorney with the Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR). Our mission is to defeat ISIS in designated areas of Iraq and Syria.  I just hit my 3 month mark of a 6-7 month deployment.  

Capt Lucero

Though I am primarily deployed to Kuwait at Camp Arifjan, I have also spent some time in Iraq at both Al Assad Air Base and Camp Taji.

Deployment has been a complete whirlwind; both fascinating and very fulfilling.  For those that don’t know, a combined and joint environment means that I work with more than just other members of the Army.  On the joint side, I work with members of the Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps.  

On the combined side, I work with military members of a whole host of other nations.  One thing I’ll always remember about this deployment is when I get to go to meetings and am surrounded by so many different partners.  I have been in so many meetings where I look around the room and see someone from each of my sister services, as well as partners from the UK, France, Australia, New Zealand, Spain, Germany, and Canada, just to name a few.  CJTF-OIR definitely lives up to its motto: “One Mission, Many Nations.”  

with fellow warriors

Working with other nations also brings up interesting legal issues, as our coalition has to be cognizant of how each nation treats various types of law and how that can impact the mission.

Here is a non-legal example that can help to demonstrate: Our legal team was chatting amongst ourselves and someone from the U.S. said they wanted to “table” the discussion.  In the U.S., “tabling” a discussion means that it will be set aside for another time.  The New Zealand member of our legal team then informed us that in most other English-speaking nations, to “table” a discussion means to put it front and center at that moment.  

This one little phrase had directly opposite meanings—and among different English-speaking countries at that!  So if a small, non-legal phrase can have opposing meanings, just imagine the coordination required to ensure shared understanding across all the coalition with dense legal nuances!

I absolutely love my job.  As a national security law attorney, I never know what each day will bring.  Our office constantly receives visitors from other staff sections to ask various legal questions.  Things can change so rapidly, and I have definitely learned to be able to adapt and be willing to tackle new types of law with which I have not previously dealt.  

My day can include a wide range of topics, from targeting, to vetting, to questions on the Counter ISIS Train and Equip Fund, to the Rules of Engagement and Law of Armed Conflict, to claims, and a variety of issues that pop up all over.  Since I got here in early February, the only constant has been change.  

In an already dynamic environment, COVID-19 has brought its own legal questions and changes.  COVID-19 has definitely had an impact on me and the team here, but we expect change in a deployed environment and do not really have a “normal.” 

 Our respective COVID-19 restrictions Impact our lives, but don’t really change our “normal” in the same way it would if we were home.  So it is very surreal for all of us to play spectator to what everyone is dealing with in the U.S. with COVID-19.  It is hard for me to fathom what it is like at home, and I am not sure what I will come back to when I redeploy in the fall.

I am so thankful for my job in the JAG Corps, the opportunities that I’ve had so far on this deployment, and the amazing team that I work with both within my legal office and the other staff sections.  

Seeing so many people, services, and nations come together in one space with a common mission and shared willingness to help one another is truly inspiring.  This is especially true during these times as we all watch our respective nations struggle with a global pandemic.  If anything, I have more faith in our world after having watched how our coalition has come together to support one another.

I very much look forward to the next few months of my deployment, and imagine it will fly by as the past few months already have!

Great words from a great officer!  Let’s keep her in our prayers!

[BTW, info on Army JAG ihere; Navy JAG is here, Air Force JAG is here; Marine Corps JAG is hereand Coast Guard JAG is here. I’d be remiss, however, if I failed to also mention the many opportunities for civilian lawyers who work for the Department of Defense (DoD). Counting full and part-time military and civilian lawyers, DoD has over 10,000 attorneys worldwide. Also, check out Duke Law’s Certificate in Public Interest and Public Service Law (PIPS) program.]

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