The warm embrace from their families was reward enough for Lt. Col. Sam Riley, Maj. Charles Blomquist, Maj. William Bickel and Capt. David Lemanski when they arrived home with other Maryland National Guard members in spring 2008 from in Iraq.
Stationed for 10 months at Camp Victory, the Multi-National Coalition’s chief camp at the Victory Base Complex in Baghdad, the four Maryland attorneys eagerly anticipated restarting their civilian lives. But new wrinkles emerged since they departed in June 2007.
For Bickel, he looked to fortify his relationship with his infant son Bolton, who was born in Baltimore while his father served abroad. For Blomquist, he turned to aid MSBA’s newly formed Special Committee on Military Law, which he co-chaired at the request of MSBA President Katherine Kelly Howard.
Together, though, this legal quartet, who integrated their state-side occupation into their foreign military service, prepared to reenter the civilian workforce, despite the fear that their legal prowess wilted in the dry Iraq heat.
“Litigation, it’s a perishable skill,” Bickel, a Baltimore County State’s Attorney, said five months after he returned. “If you’re not using it, you’re not at your best.”
Bickel, Lemanski, a colleague in the County office, and Blomquist, a Baltimore city prosecutor, eased back into their respective government positions during the early part of the summer. As a sign of admiration and appreciation, according Lemanski, their bosses ensured the workload wasn’t too much too soon, a generous “Thank You” from administrators to their brave employees.
“They understood and made it all happen,” says Prince George’s County Circuit Judge C. Philip Nichols of the administrative judges that green-lit his foreign escapades during his 37-year career with the U.S. Naval Reserves. “I can never be too thankful for all their help.”
Early one Tuesday morning, Judge Nichols received a phone call requesting his services in Guantanamo Bay and he needed to board a flight from Norfolk Naval Base at 4 a.m. Wednesday morning. They divided his docket amongst willing judges and Nichols bolted to the Cuban post. He served for about 17 days (average length for his abroad travels) and when he returned, there were no grumbles about his swift exit. His coworkers simply asked how his trip was. “I’m never gone that long anyway,” says Nichols.
But compounded over the years, the absent time could wear on all parties. Before their Iraq deployment, Bickel and Blomquist served respective tours in Bosnia and Afghanistan. Thus, they have been at their state jobs for two out of the last four years. Bickel believes the departures create friction within the workforce, but at least their jobs are secure. For their friend, civil litigator and solo practitioner Lt. Col. Sam Riley, serving abroad is much more complicated.
“My hat goes off to any professionals that are in business for themselves and committed to serving their country in uniform,” says Blomquist. “As any attorney knows, it takes a while to build up a client base. Sam’s sacrifice should be lauded.”
Since reopening on June 1st, Riley has worked at length to revive Samuel M. Riley, LLC. He’s corresponded with old clients and posted notice that he is open for business. The ebbs and flows of developing a business, says Riley, have provided a challenge. His practice is still not up to the level it was when he left but he understood in March 2007 that these would be the circumstances.
Soldiers protect a voting site in Kandahar City, Afghanistan, during the country's first democratic election in 2005. [photo courtesy of Charles Blomquist]
“I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t believe in what I was doing,” says Riley, who likens his and his National Guard colleagues’ efforts to that of the Minutemen.
“Building a practice is a tough thing,” notes Judge Nichols. “In a private practice, it’s difficult to attract and keep business. When they want you, they want you then and there.”
Congress recently discussed ideas of special tax credits, grants and loans for veterans who are small business owners, and MSBA’s Special Committee on Military Law, aside from providing a forum for military professionals to gain insight and offer advice to their peers, also plans to aid this faction, but nothing is underway yet. Riley’s strongest support came from his wife, Carrie Blackburn Riley, also an attorney with her own firm, Blackburn Riley, LLC.
“We keep separate LLC’s for a number of reasons,” Riley said in a September interview, “not the least of which is the fact that it’s hard to keep my LLC profitable when I’m out of the office for extended periods of time. So it’s been a challenge, but that’s part of the joys of being a citizen soldier.”
Riley’s blue carpeted office does not contain any grand mementos or signage from his 10-month tour in Baghdad. The solo practitioner has tried to put his time abroad out of his mind, but when asked about Camp Victory, where he served as Mayor and was responsible for its infrastructure, the information drops like a gavel.
“Camp Victory is over 1,000 acres,” he recites, “with over 2,000 structures of various types, hundreds of trailers in which folks lived, and about 220 hard buildings, including the Al Faw Palace.”
While he jostles with his two professional worlds, the Lt. Col. takes solace in the little things since coming home.
“Seeing green on a daily basis is a welcomed change,” says Riley.
His office-length window that overlooks the grassy hillocks and flower beds spread across the eastern entrance to the Old Baltimore County Courthouse provides him a resplendent escape. Yet, planted within this courthouse pasture lays a small reminder.
The Latin engravings have dulled beneath 110 years of sunlight and the dark green decor long ago bleed from the tubular body, staining the white concrete slabs underneath its pedestal. But the cannon at the eastern entrance to the Old Baltimore County Courthouse remains steadied in attack position, just as it was in the early dawn of May 1, 1898 in Manila Bay when U.S. Commodore George Dewey told Captain Charles Gridley, “You may fire when ready.”
The Spanish-American War memorial at the eastern entrance to the Old Baltimore County Courthouse; Sam Riley's office building is in the background.
With that signal, the first major battle in the Spanish-American War erupted with a thunderclap of fire and the fragrance of gun powder wafted through the Philippines’ western inlet. They completely decimated the Spanish fleet and protected every soul in Dewey’s crew.
Though the battle was an unquestionable victory for America, the war memorial stationed in the green oasis outside Riley’s office is a concrete reminder of our dedicated citizens.
“I think it’s important to have citizen soldiers participate in the nation’s defense and not just leave that to professionals,” says Blomquist. “I’m fortunate enough to be able to serve. There are millions of folks who do what I do too. It’s a testament to our society that we encourage that service.”