Why I Decided on Law School

Very few people get to live out their childhood dreams. After visiting my uncle at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, as a three year old, I knew that I wanted to join the Army. Watching soldiers jump out of helicopters, run obstacle courses, and shoot various weapons appealed to me. What I really wanted was to contribute to something greater than myself. Later, when I was in middle school, a teacher told me I would not make it through high school because I thought “too outside the box.” My North Carolina high school guidance counselor told me people from my high school did not go to colleges out of the area — much less the state. Sophomore year of college, classmates told me I would not make it in the Army. Senior year of college, a classmate told me graduate and law schools were not for guys like me because I did not come from a formally educated family. As a First Lieutenant in the US Army, my boss told me I would not make it past selection for Special Operations Forces. But my parents, who once were homeless, knew differently — dreams can come true.

This is the message I have delivered to classrooms and people across America when asked to speak. As a Captain in Army Special Operations who leads a team focused on the Middle East and Southwest Asia, I jump out of planes and helicopters, train in hand-to-hand fighting, live off of minimal equipment, travel across the world, and contribute to national security. Each morning I get to wake up and live one of my childhood dreams, but I never stopped dreaming.

At approximately 10:27 AM one February day in 2011, a rocket propelled grenade landed near me in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan. Unsure whether this was another attack or simply another incidental discharge by the Afghan National Police (ANP) I gave a puzzled look to the friend next to me. Our suspicions were confirmed when machine gun fire began snapping into the building. We were under attack. When the explosions and gunfire stopped five and a half hours later twenty-one soldiers and policemen lay dead and another fifty-six had severe injuries.

Our fight did not stop when we killed the attackers; the fight changed to the legal battlefield. I mentored the ANP senior operations officer on how to plan and conduct lethal operations while managing a large organization. The guy who slept on the cot below me worked for Task Force 435, which expanded the rule of law in Afghanistan. We and others began the process of expanding Afghan capacity for the rule of law to obtain warrants, investigate, document evidence, prosecute criminals, and treat criminals humanely in jail. This investigation saw immediate returns: those responsible for the February 2011 attack received due process through the Afghan legal systems and were imprisoned. In Afghanistan I learned the way to really contribute is through the legal process. This solidified my desire to work in the legal profession.

In middle school I read biographies of successful people to determine what made them successful. One person that I took particular interest in was Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson stated: “The study of the law is useful in a variety of points of view. It qualifies a man to be useful to himself, to his neighbors, and to the public.” In 2003, a high school teacher told me I would never make it to a prestigious university. In 2010, a friend told me I would never fulfill my second childhood dream of being accepted to law school. I will continue to serve the public, continue to make lasting change through the law, continue to prove naysayers wrong, and continue dreaming.