Beyond the Bio

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

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

Dick Caldwell, one of the firm’s founding partners and Birmingham partner Jimmy Walsh talk about their experiences serving in the U.S. Armed Forces. 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.

The Military Provides an Opportunity to Reach Your Maximum Potential

Earning their stripes helped each grow 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.

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.”