September-October 2009

Greetings from Iraq

Kenedy County Attorney Jaime Tijerina has been deployed with the Army Reserves since last December. He shares some photos and stories with his prosecutor peers.

Maj. Jaime ­Tijerina

County Attorney in Kenedy County

When I started my first term as Kenedy County Attorney in January 2001, I never envisioned that I would spend more than a year and half away from my job serving my country in Germany and now in Iraq. Then September 11, 2001 happened and my career in the army reserves took on a whole new meaning. The slogan, “One weekend a month, two weeks a year,” no longer applies.

In December 2008 I was elected to my third term while I was mobilized, a job I never really thought I would be doing after law school. I owned a home in Kenedy County and the county attorney at the time needed a little check on his authority. So I moved to my ranch and filed for the position. Thus, my career in small town politics began. Turns out either people really liked me or didn’t think much of my predecessor. I won my first ever election in a landslide, a whopping 169 votes to 65. I have run unopposed ever since. (It doesn’t hurt that until recently I was the only attorney in the county.) I am fortunate to have a terrific replacement in Tonnyre Thomas while I have been gone. It has taken the stress of worrying about the office completely off my shoulders. I still keep in touch with the office on a weekly basis when I can, but I stay out of the decision-making process. Tonnyre has complete authority and probably does a better job than I do! Tonnyre and my assistant, Tammy Mendez, make a terrific team.

I joined the reserves in 1988 to help pay for college. I enlisted and immediately joined ROTC my first year back in school. I was commissioned in December 1991 and re-commissioned in the JAG Corps in 1998. I was working as the team director for the First Legal Support Organization (LSO) when I was first elected county attorney. It was a fairly mundane assignment. After September 11, 2001, though, the one weekend a month quickly turned into more than two weekends and countless other days preparing soldiers for deployment. I mobilized in 2004 to Germany to support the 1st Infantry Division while they deployed to Iraq. When I returned, I joined the 211th Regional Support Group (RSG) out of Corpus Christi, with the knowledge that it would be deployed in a few years. This was a deliberate choice. I knew the 211th would deploy and wanted to be a part of it.

While we knew we would be deployed, we did not know when or where. But one thing certain in life is that time will pass, and in June 2008 we were sent our orders to report to Ft. Hood on December 1 for a 400-day tour. Prior to arriving at Ft. Hood we were required to complete some pre-mobilization training at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin. There is nothing like weapons training in sub-freezing temperatures in preparation for the desert! We arrived at Fort Hood on time and stretched 14 days of training into 45 days—there was a lot of down time.

We left Fort Hood near the end of January 2009 and arrived at Contingency Operating Base (COB) Speicher on January 20. COB Speicher is near Tikrit, Iraq, Saddam Hussein’s hometown. Our primary mission is to provide life support to the 16,000 coalition forces and civilians living on the COB; we ensure everybody has food, water, and a safe place to live. Not a very glamorous role, but a necessary one nonetheless. My responsibility is to advise our commander and staff on a variety of legal issues, and the majority involves contract and fiscal law. Every time we spend money, and we can spend money, a legal review is required. That’s how most of days are spent, buried deep in the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) and various other Army Regulation, fragos (supplements to orders from Higher Headquaters), and memos, attempting to make sense of the army acquisition process and keep my acquisition officer out of jail.

In an effort to leave the COB sometimes, I volunteered to work with the Provincial Reconstruction Team, now called the Embassy Team, to rebuild libraries in our province. (I wanted to avoid being a FOBITT, someone who never leaves the COB during his tour.) Libraries were one of the institutions in Iraq that Saddam dismantled to keep the citizenry illiterate. He did a very good job destroying them. This has probably been the most rewarding part of my tour. It has enabled me to travel throughout the province and see some unbelievable things. On one trip in particular we visited 5,000-year-old Assyrian ruins at Ashur. The real reward, however, was making a difference in Iraq’s future. We have completed two of eight library projects within the province that provided much-needed books and equipment, and we hope to have the other projects completed by the time we leave. However, some of the libraries are in such a state of disrepair that entire buildings will have to be constructed. Our work is complete when we finish the assessment of library and secure the funding for the project.

These trips to the libraries required all of the same precautions as regular combat patrols. We traveled in Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles (MRAPs) in full protective gear. I wish everybody could experience walking an Iraqi street in full body armor (65 pounds) in 120-degree heat. It is a humbling experience. I never thought I could consume so much water and not require a bathroom break. The only good thing about these trips was that the MRAPs air conditioning worked surprisingly well. I have a lot of respect for the soldiers who do this on a day-to-day basis.

Life on the COB is a lot like the movie Groundhog Day: Every day is the same. Speicher, thankfully, is a fairly safe place. We are 16 square miles of Air Base stuck in the middle of desert. It is difficult for anyone to try to take a shot at us. Indirect fire has reached our area only twice since I have been here, which was two times too many. Iraq is a much safer place than it used to be, but it is still a dangerous place in some areas and I don’t want to minimize the sacrifice many soldiers are still making today. When we are not working, there are many activities to participate in. We have a variety of organized sports, multiple gyms, and entertainers often perform for us. Food is good and we even have steak and lobster every Sunday night. As good as it is, it is still not home.

I hope to be home by Thanksgiving, but will settle for Christmas. Hopefully, this will be my last deployment, but anything is possible. Inshalla (God willing) I will see you in Fort Worth for the Elected Prosecutor Conference in December.

Hurricane 51 (my call sign), out.