Earning Their Stripes: RKC Partners Share Lessons Learned While Serving in the U.S. Armed Forces

10.07.14 | Permalink

Five of the 95 attorneys at Rumberger, Kirk & Caldwell share in a distinct experience of serving in the U.S. Armed Forces including one of the three founding partners Dick Caldwell, Jimmy Walsh, Brian Baggot, Darren McCartney and Jared Smith. While each attorney’s story and experience is unique, they share a common bond in the life lessons and impact their experiences had on them that they carry forward in the work they do today.  Each one shares his story and the lessons he learned along the way.

Dick Caldwell – Be Flexible, Adapt and Get Things Done

Like many others in his generation, Dick Caldwell was required to take two years of ROTC as part of his college experience. He chose to take advanced ROTC for his junior and senior years followed by a 6-week summer camp, which he described as a modified basic training regime.
“At the time, it was a pain in the neck, but because I came out as an officer, I was glad I did it,” reflected Dick. “I served in the 4th Armored Division Artillery and landed in Germany where I stayed for all three years of my commitment, which was very unusual at the time. It was really just luck that kept me there during the Vietnam buildup,” he said.

Dick says he matured very quickly during that time because his military responsibilities increased rapidly. “The duty was difficult because we were short-handed most of the time and people were getting orders and being shipped out all of the time. I learned to be flexible and accept and adapt to the situation at hand. At just 22 years old, I was working with equipment worth millions of dollars and taking care of the soldiers under my command. I had to make sure my soldiers had adequate support and medical care as well as be ready to correct them if they did something wrong,” he said.

“In the Army, I learned to be committed to doing what needed to be done and to take things seriously. I’m not sure I had learned that when I graduated from undergraduate school, but I certainly did in the next three years.”

When he completed his duty in 1968, he was a Captain, as well as a husband and father. As Dick began law school, Jimmy Walsh, a partner in the Birmingham office, was just beginning his 20-year military career.

James “Jimmy” Walsh – Follow the Honor Code and Do the Right Thing

“I decided in 7th grade that I would go to West Point,” said Jimmy Walsh, a retired Army Lieutenant Colonel. “I watched these two military shows after school—Men of Annapolis and West Point—I was hooked. I wasn’t alone, either. More than half of my class came to the academy citing the same reason,” said Jimmy.

After graduating from the U.S. Military Academy (West Point), Jimmy attended the Infantry Officer Basic Course and then Ranger School. “It’s because of that school that I am alive today,” he continued.

Ranger School is an intense combat training course where both officers and soldiers train to exhaustion, pushing the limits of their minds and bodies while learning to engage in close combat and direct-fire battles. Through arduous training, Army Rangers become experts in leading soldiers on difficult missions.

“After nine weeks of very little sleep, very little food and extremely stressful situations, I volunteered for Vietnam as my first assignment. I spent four months at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky and then arrived in Vietnam on May 13, 1969, nearly one year after graduation,” said Jimmy.

He spent a year of combat in Vietnam working for his first two months as a line platoon leader and then he was promoted to lead the Battalion Recon Platoon.

“Most officers rotated six months in the field and six months in some job in the rear or headquarters so they are not exposed to danger every day, but at the end of my six months in the field, I chose to stay. I was trained to do a job and I had guys under my command that didn’t have a choice to be in the field or not, so it didn’t seem right for me to go back. That was the hardest letter I ever wrote to my mother,” Jimmy said.

Staying in combat for an additional six months is a great example of how the ‘honor’ portion of the West Point motto: ‘Duty, Honor, Country.’ “It’s all about “Doing the right Thing,” said Jimmy.

“One of my teachers at West Point and my boss in Vietnam was General Norman Schwarzkopf. He was big on the honor code and we really took it to heart, because if we didn’t all operate together and do the right thing, someone would end up dying,” said Jimmy.

After leaving combat, Jimmy taught Ranger School before a chance meeting with his former boss, General Schwarzkopf, would lead him to law school.

“I was thinking of getting out of the military because things were winding down in Vietnam and my chances for a command job were reduced. I couldn’t imagine not doing what I had been trained to do. I was about to get married and I went with my fiancée to visit her family who lived close to Washington D.C. While there, I stopped at the Infantry Branch office to find out more about what was going on and where things were heading. Schwarzkopf was in charge and when I told him I was thinking of getting out, he spent the next couple of hours looking for possibilities for me before finally suggesting law school. I had never given it a thought, and asked if he was kidding. He told me he never met anyone who liked to argue as much as I did. He told me I was a natural,” Jimmy explained.

After graduating from law school and attending Judge Advocate General’s Corps (JAG) School, Jimmy spent the next 12 years serving the Army as an attorney. His many roles included three years of service in Germany as a prosecutor in Baumholder and Mainz before heading back to the States as the Regional Defense Counsel with an office at Ft. Meade, Mass. There he was responsible for all criminal cases from Ft. Knox, Kentucky to Ft. Devens, Massachusetts handling his own cases while also supervising 34 attorneys. During his next assignment at the US Army Claims Service, he was responsible for all litigation claims filed against the US Army in the northwest U.S. including Alaska. His last three years were spent as the Staff Judge Advocate for Ft. McPherson, Georgia where he handled all aspects of criminal and civil litigation and federal contracting for the installation. After retiring from the Army, Jimmy moved straight to civil work and tried his first case in his new career three weeks later.

“In the Army, I learned to accomplish a lot at one time by delegating, yet keeping my fingers on the pulse. In addition, I have encountered some really serious situations with lots of stress and that’s helped me face tough situations for my clients and in my life, while keeping my mind focused on the task at hand and what’s important,” said Jimmy. 

Darren McCartney – Work Hard and Stay Focused and You Can Accomplish Anything

Like Jimmy Walsh, Darren McCartney, a partner in the Orlando office, had a strong interest in serving in the military at a young age. “I was fascinated by military history and John Wayne movies. I wanted to attend the U.S. Naval Academy and become a Marine Aviator,” he said.

Unfortunately, the loss of his father during his junior year of high school sent Darren into a tailspin. “I was delivering pizzas and really not going anywhere after graduation. I was aimless and had lost any opportunities for scholarship, so I ended up enlisting in the Marines,” said Darren.

During his six years of service, Darren worked in avionics, which is electronics on aircraft. “When I enlisted I had hoped to be working in I-level electronics where I’d be working on circuit boards in an air-conditioned building. Instead, I ended up in the field working on Cobra attack and ‘Huey’ helicopters on Navy ships.” Darren served on three cruises, two in the Mediterranean and one in the Caribbean.

The first of the three tours was on the U.S.S. Guam (LPH 9) deployed to the Mediterranean during the breakup and wars in what was the former Yugoslavia. “The ship was often on fire, flooding, or smoking,” Darren remembered. “The boilers broke all the time leaving the showers ice cold with no relief from the freezing weather in the Northern Adriatic Sea. As if that weren’t enough, the water smelled just like jet fuel. We drank coffee to mask the taste of the fuel, but it was really disgusting.”

It’s no wonder the ship was in rough shape. It was first commissioned in January 1965 saw and participated in many historical events over its 33 years in service including the recovering of the astronauts from Gemini XI, combat operations in Grenada and deployment to the Persian Gulf in support of Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm.
During a six-month cruise, the ship typically sails for three to seven days and then stops at port, but for Darren and his shipmates, they remained at sea in the Adriatic for over 60 days. “We actually were provided a beer ration, which is a Navy tradition that occurs if you are at sea for more than 45 days,” said Darren.

After returning from his deployments, Darren did not get much rest. “Normally you would expect to be home for a year before being transitioned to another deployment unit, but this didn’t happen in my case. I came back in April and was back out in the fall each time. I essentially missed all the holidays for three years in a row.  Now, compared to what guys are going through right now with Afghanistan and Iraq, this is nothing, but at the time it was awful.”

While in the U.S. between his first and second tours, Darren decided to become a lawyer. “Never in a million years did I think I’d be a lawyer. I always thought I’d be an engineer because math and science were my strongest subjects. My mom had a problem with a piece of property she owned that was claimed to be wetlands and hindered her ability to sell it, so she had to go see a lawyer to help her. That experience got me interested in being a lawyer so that I could help people,” explained Darren.

Living at sea in tight, uncomfortable quarters while working stressful military operations put things into perspective for Darren and prepared him for the challenges he would face in the next chapter of his life.

“The Marines taught me to work hard and stay focused, so college really was not that difficult,” noted Darren. Not only was Darren successful in college, he graduated second in his class from University of Florida Levin College of Law. “I learned that you often can do more than you think you can and that you have to continue to work through things to accomplish your goals.”

Darren continues to use that same discipline and work ethic to serve clients in his commercial litigation practice today, whether defending clients from claims or assisting in reviewing or drafting contracts and other documents to assist clients in avoiding future litigation issues. 

Brian Baggot -- Gained Invaluable Trial Experience at a Young Age


Brian Baggot, a partner in RKC’s Tampa office, joined the Army ROTC program in college after winning a military scholarship. In return, he had a four-year service agreement with the Army. Upon completing college, the Army postponed Brian’s entry into active duty so that he could attend law school at the University of Florida

 “After law school and my admission to the bar, the Army transferred me into its legal branch, the Judge Advocate General’s Corps (JAG),” he said. “I attended the Army’s JAG School in Charlottesville, Virginia for several months of military law training and then attended Army Airborne School for military parachutist training. At the time, I had orders to serve as a Judge Advocate with the Army’s XVIII Airborne Corps., and even the lawyers in that unit had to jump out of airplanes,” said Brian.

Brian served for six years as a U.S. Army military prosecutor at several Army installations including an assignment in the Emirate of Kuwait with the Third Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment.

Brian explained that a military prosecutor’s role is similar to that of a state attorney, but instead of representing the state or federal government, the Army prosecutor litigates cases on behalf of a particular military unit, typically at the brigade or regimental levels. In addition to prosecuting soldiers for violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, Army prosecutors also litigate at administrative hearings to deal with poor performance or misconduct by soldiers that does not rise to the level of criminality. Such cases might involve anything from efforts to discharge a soldier for the inability to meet weight or physical fitness requirements to revoking the hospital credentials of an Army physician for malpractice.

Brian is quick to point out the parallels between his job as a civil litigation defense attorney and his former role as a military lawyer. “In the Army, my job was to be a legal advisor to a military unit,” Brian said. “My goal was to solve that unit’s legal problems so that it could return to its true military mission. This is very similar to what I do as counsel for a business. My goal is to help solve my clients’ legal problems so they can return their focus to their business.

One of the greatest benefits of Brian’s military service was the opportunity to gain trial experience immediately. “The Army did not have a group of senior lawyers who flew in to try all the cases. If a soldier committed a crime in your unit, it was your case to litigate, whether it was a murder case or a simple AWOL charge,” Brian said.

Brian also explained that the development of his courtroom skills benefitted from the difficult military trial system where being a successful military prosecutor requires having the persuasive skill and attention to detail to convince soldiers on a court-martial panel to convict one of their own, which is a much more difficult hurdle than what the civilian lawyer faces with a jury.

Brian believes that his experiences as an Army Judge Advocate trained him very well for how cases are litigated in his civil litigation defense practice.  “Developing strong litigation skills and handling significant cases against capable opposing attorneys was invaluable experience for my practice today,” he said.  

Jared Smith – Earned Courage and Confidence to Tackle any Situation

Jared Smith, also a partner in the Tampa, gained valuable trial experience after serving four years in the U.S. Air Force as part of the Judge Advocate General’s Corps (JAG) at MacDill Air Force Base and Goodfellow Air Force Base.

Jared’s call to serve in the U.S. Armed Forces came after he had already attended college and law school.

“I was halfway through my two-year clerkship with the Honorable Justice Edward J. Larson of the Kansas Supreme Court, and starting to consider my opportunities when the clerkship ended,” explained Jared. “I received a letter from the Air Force, but hadn’t really given it much thought until a month later when we were attacked on September 11. I felt a strong desire to help because I kept envisioning what our country would look like if good people didn’t serve and we didn’t defend ourselves properly. I really wanted to do my part and my wife, who was pregnant with our first child, agreed.”

Fate was on Jared’s side because he landed his first assignment at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, where his wife was from and where her family lived. Jared wore many hats during his time at MacDill including Chief of Claims where he adjusted and managed the handling of all personal injury and medical malpractice claims against the base and assigned Air Force personnel obtaining valuable insight into the claims management process.

“As Chief of Legal Assistance, I helped retired or deploying Marines and other service members with legal documents such as wills and power of attorney. It was good to know I was helping people, which was why I went into the service in the first place. I remember thanking a special operations forces Marine and telling him how much we respect them for being up front fighting the battles, and he said that they couldn’t do that without our help. I knew then that I was in the right place and had found a way to serve our country as a lawyer,” said Jared.

Some of the other roles Jared played during his service included advising the Chief of Operations for MacDill’s 2004 AirFest and providing counsel to the Chief of Staff of the MacDill hospital. “While the Chief of Staff was a civilian (GS-15), I was working with top ranking military members on base from Colonels to Majors having intense discussions about patient care, privacy concerns and many of the same issues that civilian hospitals encounter. You can’t help but obtain a high level of confidence when working with this level of authority. I also felt that my role was not only to ensure that we were doing things right and complying with the law, but protecting people’s health and safety by preventing claims.”

Like Brian Baggot, Jared also found the trial experience he obtained in the military particularly rewarding, especially the importance of detailed, factual investigation. “The value of solid factual investigation cannot be understated and is often the difference between what could be classified as a win or loss at the end of a case, whether in the military or civilian court,” said Jared.

Jared’s military trial experience also trained him to work in extremely intense situations. In fact, many of the administrative actions trials were much more stressful than the criminal jury trials.

“My very first discharge board, I had to cross examine a colonel from central command and I was just a first lieutenant or very junior captain. I learned to be confident and do my job given any situation, even when asking a board to discharge a 16-year, decorated Veteran for misconduct. In the end, my job was to protect the Air Force from those whose actions may cause harm to a mission or others.”

The military taught Jared to be confident and diligent in his work no matter what the situation may be. “In the military, when you are given an assignment, you do what you have to do to get it done. Now, I’m able to draw on that confidence when put into tough situations today. I may not introduce myself as Captain Smith, but the authority and confidence are still there,” he said.

The high level of diligence and dedication carry forward in the work Jared does today in his practice areas of construction, banking and financial services, and product liability. For instance, Jared said it’s not unusual to find him wearing jeans and crawling around in attics in extreme temperatures or scaling three-story apartment buildings with crumbling shingles to do what needs to be done to get to the bottom of the facts.

The Military Provides an Opportunity to Reach Your Maximum Potential

While each of these men rose to a unique challenge, they all earned their stripes and grew into tough, skilled attorneys who are focused on solving problems and doing everything they can to get the job done. From being disciplined and hardworking to taking on enormous responsibility at very young ages, it is not surprising that many of the qualities and skills required to be successful in the U.S. Armed Forces translate into qualities that have made each attorney successful in his career and at Rumberger, Kirk & Caldwell. It is also not surprising that each one of these military veterans is a partner in the firm.

The military mindset and discipline set people up to be successful in many careers because it teaches people how to reach their maximum potential. It’s no doubt the military provided a great training ground for these excellent attorneys.

“In the service, you learn to be focused and give your best effort no matter what the situation,” said Dick Caldwell. “As an attorney, it’s the same. You must give your absolute best effort. You have to go the extra mile to represent the client, but you also must be ethical and stay within the realm of good sense and manners. Doing this entails burning a lot of midnight oil. People who are a success do just that.”

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