Sunday, September 30, 2007

Final Article

We had one last article written about us in the Deseret Morning News. Here's the link:,5143,695212676,00.html

And here's the content of the article. I think our "15 minutes" is now officially over.

3 Utahns coached Afghans on laws
JAG officers tell of their challenges, progress
By Jens Dana, Deseret Morning News
Published September 24, 2007

Many members of the recently returned 1st. Corps Artillery faced hot combat against the Taliban on the battlefronts of Afghanistan during their yearlong tour of duty.

But among their ranks are three soldiers, all from Utah County, who fought against injustice on a different kind of battlefront — the courtrooms of Afghanistan.

In civilian life, Lt. Col. Robert Church, Capt. Dusty Kawai and Maj. Paul Waldron are hometown prosecutors and defense attorneys. Church works as an Orem city prosecutor, Kawai is a defense attorney with Esplin & Weight in Provo, and Waldron is a lawyer with Scribner & McCandless PC in Provo. But a year ago, they were deployed as JAG officers who trained the staff judge advocates of the Afghanistan National Army on military judicial procedures.
While the U.S. military has taken a strong hand in training the Afghan army for nearly six years, they are the first JAG officers to train the legal officers. For more than a year, the three officers challenged corruption, faced death threats, endured setbacks and saw the progress of a fledgling military judicial system in their quest to establish rule of law.

Church, Kawai and Waldron arrived in Afghanistan on Aug. 20, 2006. Originally, they were activated to work in civil affairs such as building community wells and bridges, but a JAG official reassigned them to become legal mentors in the cities of Kabul, Gudar and Kandahar.

When they arrived at their assigned bases, they soon received reports of blatant corruption among high-level Afghan officers. Many would steal military supplies, abuse young soldiers in their battalions and engage in racketeering, charging local villages "protection fees." Others were cogs in the drug-trafficking machine.

The Afghan military legal teams were eager to prosecute low-ranking soldiers for petty theft and assault, but Church was frustrated that they winked at crimes perpetrated by high-ranking officers with far-reaching political connections.

"They weren't prosecuting or investigating them," he said. "They were just accepting it as a part of the culture."

Almost immediately, the three JAG officers took a direct hand in prosecuting crooked senior officers.

Rule of law

A few months into his deployment, Kawai received reports that a battalion commander had drugged and sexually assaulted a young soldier, which, he said, is an all-too-common practice in Afghanistan. Kawai and his ANA counterpart traveled to the base where the assault reportedly happened and began looking for the soldier, who had fled to the mountains.

Three days into their search, the soldier came to them at night. He had heard they were looking for him, and his friends sneaked him onto the military base disguised in civilian clothes.
With tears in his eyes, the soldier told Kawai he intended to kill the battalion commander. In a long, desperate conversation, Kawai pleaded with the young man not to take the law into his own hands.

"Please believe we will do all we can to bring him to justice," he said. Eventually, the soldier agreed.

"But if you fail," the young man warned, "I will kill him myself."

Kawai and his ANA counterpart prosecuted the commander. They presented a mountain of physical evidence and witness testimony to prove the assault. Though the evidence was staggering, there was a chance the commander would get off free. He had many powerful friends. Parliament members with an interest in the case advised the judges to drop it.
Despite the pressure, the judges sentenced the commander to five years in prison. He appealed his sentence, but the ruling stood. Kawai said it was the first instant he's heard of any high-ranking Afghan officer being sentenced to serve time in jail for a crime.

After the sentence was handed down, Kawai asked the soldier who was assaulted if he was satisfied with the trial's outcome. The soldier, again with tears in his eyes, thanked Kawai.
"This is more than what I hoped for," he said.

As Kawai left the courtroom, throngs of young soldiers swarmed around him, anxiously asking about the trial's outcome. When he told them, they cheered. Some pulled out their cell phones. Within minutes, hundreds of soldiers knew the trial results.

"It showed the Afghans that on the horizon there is a time when the rule of law is applicable to everyone," Kawai said.

Not everyone was happy with the trial's outcome, or Kawai's aggressive mentoring style. The Afghan core commander at the base Kawai was assigned to got phone calls from Parliament demanding to know why the legal team was investigating military leaders. Close friends warned him they heard a $500 contract on his life was issued while Kawai was investigating another battalion commander.

"I knew I was creating enemies" he said. He wasn't deterred.

Letdowns, victories

His fellow JAG officers also enjoyed their share of victories, though not every case concluded with a happy ending.

Church also trained legal teams that convicted high-profile officers. While he was at the Kabul Military Training Center, two sergeants assaulted an Afghan recruit. At trial's end, one received five years in jail and the other received eight years. But he also experienced his share of high-profile letdowns.

Church and his legal team accepted the challenge of prosecuting a one-star general with an extreme penchant for violence. They had nearly 30 witness statements, including testimonies of dozens of soldiers he'd assaulted and beaten. But the general was a brilliant strategist with an ace in his hand — political allies.

"He was very good at what he did," Church said. "He was also very violent and very corrupt and very evil."

They managed to take him into custody and prosecute him, but outside forces played a strong hand. Witnesses changed their stories, others refused to testify. The judges convicted the general of a single assault charge, but he only served 52 days in jail. Church was disappointed with the ultimate outcome of the trial.

"From a theoretical point of view, the case was a success because we did an appropriate investigation," he said, "but ... he didn't get fired, he didn't get transferred. He went right back to his job."

Waldron also faced setbacks. Kandahar — a place he dubbed the Wild West of Afghanistan — is a region where the most heated combat between U.S. troops and the Taliban plays out. Afghan legal staffers were afraid to serve there.

But Waldron said the region wasn't as dangerous as it seemed. Camp Hero, the base where he was posted, was never rocketed.

"They were very poor shots," he said of enemy combatants.

Waldron tried to carry out his legal mentoring duties, but the region only had 20 percent of the required legal staff. He trained leaders and soldiers for six months before he was reassigned to humanitarian projects with the Commanders Emergency Relief program.

Despite the setbacks, Church said they saw a noticeable decrease in corruption, but the country still has a long way to go.

"With any fledgling system there's going to be bumps in the road, so our model is we're taking baby steps," he said.

Time to grow

Up until a year and a half ago, the Afghan military justice system was based on outdated Soviet codes, Waldron said. The rising generation eagerly accepts the new military justice code based on the U.S. Uniformed Military Code of Justice, but the older generation still clings to the former system.

"In many aspects, we cannot expect Afghanistan to progress too fast," he said.

In the meantime, Church said he's already seen a rising crop of courageous prosecutors, including his counterpart, Col. Kaliq.

Kaliq challenged the status quo before the U.S. JAG officers showed up.
"He's fearless," Church said.

Two months before Kaliq joined up with Church, a thug ransacked his house to pressure him into dropping an investigation against senior officers. Fortunately, he wasn't home at the time, and his 13-year-old son evaded the intruder.

The staff Kawai coached also grew into brave prosecutors over the course of a few months. When the core commander of the base would try to bully them into dropping investigations against senior officers, they insisted that the law trumped all other vested interests.
"We don't work for you," they would say. "We work for the law."

The ultimate goal of the legal mentoring system is help the Afghan people reach a point where they won't need trainers to shadow them where they go, Kawai said. It may take a while, but he's optimistic they will be able to adapt to the new military legal system.

"It's a nation of warriors," he said. "It's just going to be a matter of them embracing this new system."

Coming Home

I’ve only been home a month and I still haven’t finished my blog. I’m sure by now no one will even log on to read my final musings so this is more for posterity.

I can’t begin to describe the feelings of getting on the plane in Gulfport, MS (Camp Shelby) knowing that it was the final leg to going home, excitement being an understatement. This time being a senior officer was a disadvantage as we boarded last so I ended up sitting in a middle seat, but you know what, I didn’t mind. The senior officers had been pampered the entire trip so it was someone else’s turn and besides, it was the last leg of the journey so I could put up with the dreaded middle seat for a few hours. Because we had to get up at “zero-dark-thirty” (0330) in order to get to the airport I was actually able to sleep for the majority of the trip so that made it pass quickly.

As we began our descent into the Salt Lake Valley you could feel the excitement build inside the plane. Looking out the window I could begin to see familiar sights and that only added to the excitement. When the wheels of the plane touched down, a cheer erupted throughout the plane. We were home at last. Once again, the flight attendants were so great. They thanked us profusely for our service.

As we taxied towards the Air Guard terminal, two fire trucks greeted us with a tunnel of water, similar to what we were greeted with in Dallas. It was just as cool the second time as it was the first time.

The plane finally came to a stop about 100 yards from the actual terminal. Just as in Shelby, we had to go through the meet and greet from all the dignitaries. What an honor it was to be honored by the Generals, the Colonel’s and state officials. (Governor Huntsman was not there so sent the Lieutenant Governor instead.)

Then came the walk/run to meet my family. About half of the plane had disembarked by the time it was my turn. As I walked towards the crowd of people I was scanning the crowd looking for Luke, since he would have been the tallest of the group. I was not to be disappointed. He was there holding a sign, along with Janae, Seth, Braxton, Lyman and Donna Durfee (my –inlaws), and Dallin, Memorie, Miranda and James Durfee. They had all sorts of signs. Seth’s said “The car is mine” in reference to his dillusion that my car that he’s been driving the last year is really his and Braxton’s said “I’m taller than Mom.” Janae's was the only one expressing any kind of sentiment (OK, "I Love You" is a good sentiment, but nothing at all sentimental from the boys - go figure!) (Not a lot of pictures as they had the video camera going.)

As I embraced my wonderful wife and sons it was such a surreal experience. Of course it hadn’t really hit me that I was home, that would come much later. It seemed more like being home on leave only in the back of my mind I knew I was home for good. But still, it didn’t seem like a reality yet.

We were afraid that they were going to make us stick around to listen to the dignitaries give a speech but fortunately we were spared that “agony” and were allowed to simply go home. For once, somebody was thinking.

I’ve already written about the reception that I got at home. I still get choked up when I think of all those flags, the time that was spent putting them up and what they represented. I hated to see them come down but after several days they did. I really missed them. Before I left last year I hung a brand new flag in front of our house. As you can imagine, hanging there the entire time I was gone, it was a little bit faded, sort of like my uniforms, but proud, nonetheless. Next summer on Flag Day it will receive a proper “retirement” befitting it’s station.

I know that I should have written this when it was all fresh. Time has faded somewhat the actual feelings I had and went through but suffice it to say it was good to be home.

We got home on Thursday, Friday we spent the morning at Camp Williams going through the demobilization process. That was actually less painful than I thought it was going to be and for that I was grateful. I was done shortly after lunch and home early.

Janae had planned an Open House for me on Saturday night. I wore my “man jimmies” and with my broken tooth felt like a real Afghan. So many people made wonderful treats that I easily put on a few pounds just sampling one of everything. The best part though, were all the people who stopped by. Once again I was really humbled by the outpouring of love and friendship. With so many people coming to see me I didn’t get to spend much time with anyone in particular but figured that would happen in the coming weeks and months. It was just so great to see everyone. Janae really did a great job in planning and I’m truly grateful to her for her thoughtfulness.

So what’s it been like being home? Great, wonderful, frustrating, challenging; all those emotions. It wasn’t like being home on leave and I’m not sure why. I think because we knew that leave was for a short, finite period of time the emotions were different. This time, we knew it was for a long time, hopefully forever, so maybe that’s why it felt different. As the weeks have gone by it’s been an adjustment for all of us. Janae no longer had the entire bed to herself and had to put up with having a husband around. The boys had to fit me back into their lives and that wasn’t always easy.

Because we didn’t get home until after the boys were back in school, we never got a summer vacation. I had been saving for and planning on one for the entire deployment and to be robbed of that time together as a family was sorely disappointing. We tried to make up for it by going to Park City one day but Seth couldn’t come so while we had a good time it was not what I had wanted or expected. Some guys simply pulled their kids out of school but with Seth at the “Y”, Luke in 11th grade and Braxton in 8th, I just couldn’t do that to them. They hate making up homework, plus they didn’t want to get out of school. In fact, Luke and Braxton didn’t want to come to the airport to meet me for fear of missing school and having to make up homework. How’s that for love?

We had been briefed that we needed to be careful about our expectations. Being gone for so long you imagine what it’s going to be like, what you hope it’s going to be like and what you expect it to be like and no matter how many people tell you it’s going to be different, you don’t believe them. Well I can tell you that the briefers were right. It was not what I expected.

Your family has learned to get along without you and so it’s hard to fit back in. Your friends have moved on with their lives and while you’ll always be friends, it’s not the same as it once was. I don’t mean to sound so negative, because being home is the greatest thing, it’s jus that it’s not what I expected. See there, that expectations thing.

The first two weeks were actually pretty hard but things have gotten better. As I’ve gone back to work and have started to find my rhythm again, life is slowly feeling more normal. In fact my time spent in Afghanistan is becoming almost like a dream. I still dream about Afghanistan – what’s really weird, is that I’ve had the most vivid, memorable dreams since I’ve been home. I’ve never been one to really remember my dreams but since being home I’ve had the strangest dreams that have lingered with me for several hours after I’ve woken up. That’s another thing we were told would happen, the dreams and in some cases nightmares, so once again, the briefers have been proven right.

Let me just say though, that being home has been great despite the challenges.

So now what? Even though I haven’t written for the month I’ve been home I’ve missed writing. I’m not sure that the musings of a civilian will be of interest to anyone after this so I’m not sure what to do. I thought of creating a new blog page and writing about my life as a city prosecutor but I’ll have to give that some thought. Janae has told me that several of our neighbors who read my blog have started their own blogs. Good for them. Maybe I just need to keep writing for my own posterity. We’ll see.
In any event, I want to thank all of you have kept up with my writings and who have left comments. I’ve enjoyed the comments almost more than anything. So with that said, God Bless!

Monday, September 03, 2007

Daily Herald Newspaper Story

Our local paper, the Daily Herald, did a story on Paul, Dusty and I. It was front-page worthy and appeared on Saturday, August 25, 2007.

Here's the link:

Here's the text if you don't want to go to the link:

JAG Officers Help Spread the Rule of Law to Afghan Army

When Lt. Col. Robert Church, Capt. Dusty Kawai and Maj. Paul Waldron arrived in Afghanistan last August, the country's military justice system was in its infancy. It has not yet reached maturity, but thanks in part to the three Utah County soldier-lawyers, it is growing.
Church, of Orem, Kawai, of Pleasant Grove, and Waldron, of Springville, are members of the Utah National Guard's 1st Corps Artillery, and during a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan they worked for the Judge Advocate General's Corps, the military's legal wing. As the United States taught the Afghan National Army to fight terrorists and police its borders, the three Utahns helped teach it how to police itself.
The ANA's military justice system was enacted in late 2005, but when Church, Kawai and Waldron arrived in the country a year ago, that system was barely functioning. Western legal concepts were on the books, but were often misunderstood or simply ignored. It was the three JAG officers' jobs to mentor the prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges and legal staff and teach them how to abide by the rule of law.
"There was a lot of resistance down where I was, to me, implementing the new system because the commanders would prefer to simply beat a wrongdoer with a pistol butt and throw them in a (shipping container) for a few days and let them roast in the heat than actually follow through with the military justice system," Waldron said.
Each of the three men was assigned to one of Afghanistan's five military regions, with Church in Kabul, Kawai in Gardez and Waldron in Kandahar. In Gardez, Kawai often sat in on trials and offered advice, while Waldron, whose region was not as well staffed by the ANA, didn't take part in deliberations. Church, stationed in the country's capital, spent much of his time training officers and recruits.
"We spent most of our time just trying to train the Afghan commanders on their new system, how to implement it, get the system going," Waldron said.
Oftentimes, they would be advising the defense attorney, prosecutor and judges on the same trial, making sure everyone played by the book. They didn't have any authority over their Afghan counterparts, but they did have influence. Church called this "mentoring with a big stick."
They had no authority to tell them what to do, Church said, "but they perceive that we do, therefore we wield a lot of influence with the Afghans."
The three feel they made their mark and had their share of success. When they first arrived, the country had conducted only 14 courts martial. In his region alone, Kawai oversaw 32 over the past year.
Perhaps most indicative of the changes that occurred in the military justice system during their tenure in Afghanistan is a greater willingness to go after high-ranking officers. Church took part in the trial of a brigadier general in the Afghan National Army who was accused of raping a soldier. That case succeeded, yielding a conviction of a brigadier general for the first time in the ANA's history.
Unfortunately, that general had a lot of political clout and served less than two months, but Church still feels it was a sign of progress.
"Be that as it may, we convicted a brigadier general," he said.
Waldron said the outcome wasn't always as important as how the judges and lawyers arrived there.
"Rather than getting certain results, our job was to make sure the process was proper," he said.
Of course, they still liked seeing a happy ending. Kawai helped the ANA's legal system convict a colonel to five years for sexually assaulting a soldier. That colonel was also well-connected politically and was considered a hero by many for his service in the country's war against the Soviet Union in the 1980s, but the sentence was handed down, despite a great deal of opposition.
"In this rape case there were soldiers waiting outside the courtroom, and when I came out they ran up to me and said, 'What happened?' " Kawai said. "I told them he got five years, and they just were all on their cell phones."
Another officer whom Kawai helped convict was running a mafia-style protection racket in the town he was in charge of, and was stealing money from his soldiers as well. Kawai said the convictions were empowering for the soldiers who had often seen their commanders act with impunity.
Not everything went as smoothly as they liked. Judges who were used to questioning the defendants themselves had to get used to the idea of letting the prosecutors do it. A prosecutor whom Kawai worked with wanted to continue a trial without witnesses, and Kawai had to emphasize the notion that a defendant has the right to face his accusers in court. And Waldron got into an argument with a judge whom he said didn't grasp the concept of relevant evidence.
"I was so angry I stood up and walked out," Waldron said.
Kawai made enough waves that he got death threats and was given a full security detail. He even avoided an assassination attempt when he spotted an improvised explosive device that had been placed in his vehicle's path on the way out of town one day.
But things are notably better off than when the three lawyers arrived, they say.
"Now that they have achieved success, I think they will be better equipped to achieve that success on their own because the pattern has been set," Church said.
Church is going back to his job as an Orem city prosecutor, Waldron will go back to the law firm Scribner & McCandless, and Kawai is leaving his former firm to be a Utah County public defender. All are happy to be home.
"I'm really looking forward to getting back and trying some cases and just advocating for my clients. I've missed that a lot," Kawai said. "I can't wait to get back into the courtroom."
But the three take pride that the rule of law means a little more in Afghanistan than it did a year ago.
"I saw a lot of progress," Kawai said. "From when we got in the country to when we left the country, there was a general greater acceptance that there are laws on the books and you have to abide by the laws. I really consider that a success story."

Haven't Forgotten

I know, I still have several entries I need to write. I'm just finding other things to keep myself busy. I promise to finish this saga in the next couple of days so check back.