Justin Browne had barely scratched the surface of his law studies when the glow from the television screen captured his attention. The flashing scenes and images of America’s invasion of Iraq in 2003 immediately consumed the Howard County resident. Browne tucked his law studies away as he pondered his next move. What can I do? How can I help? These questions reigned over his mind every free second. His country was at war, and Browne wanted to serve his part.
Military Law is an area that the MSBA could be a viral part of.
Maj. Charles Blomquist
Military Law Special
Five years later, amid familiarizing himself with working at Whitney & Bogris, LLC, and anxiously awaiting the results of his bar exam, Browne personifies support for the troops as the creator and Chair of the MSBA’s Special Committee on Military Law. Though the nation’s eyes are transfixed on the perils and dangers our armed forces face, the Committee’s focus lies on the servicemen and women – men and women who have left behind a family to serve their country. Men and women who have risked life and limb to preserve freedom. Men and women who have obstacles to face upon their return.
“I think there’s a lot of interest in various aspects in Military Law,” says MSBA President Kathy Kelly Howard, “whether it’s in BRAC [Defense Base Closure and Realignment Commission], military families or veterans’ legal rights.”
Within the boundaries of the Old Line State, the military has a prevalent standing. Aberdeen Proving Ground, Andrews Air Force Base, and Forts Meade and Dietrich make up Maryland’s military contingent. The State’s proximity to Washington, D.C., and its 480,000+ resident veterans, according to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, further solidifies the armed forces’ stature.
Similarly, the military comprises a major portion of Maryland’s legal community, with notable active and retired military officials, including Lt. Governor Anthony G. Brown, an attorney and U.S. Army Colonel who served a 10-month tour in Iraq; Prince George’s Circuit Court Judge C. Philip Nichols, a retired Judge Advocate General (JAG) Officer and Senior Reserve Military Judge in the U.S. Naval Reserves for 30 years; and Maj. Charles Blomquist, an Assistant State’s Attorney in Baltimore City’s Homicide Division and Co-Chair to the Special Committee on Military Law.
Blomquist’s varied experience is a vital pairing for Browne, whose experience is, admittedly, lacking.
“I have known Charles since his days as a law clerk with [Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge] John Carroll Burns,” says Howard. She invited her old pal to come aboard the Special Committee and offer guidance. “He has a good perspective in service and also has been very active with the Bar Association.”
“I jumped at the opportunity,” remarks Blomquist, who was still serving in Iraq when Browne proposed the committee at a Board of Governors meeting in the spring of 2008. “I think [Howard] realized [Military Law] is an area that the MSBA could be a vital part of and should be a proponent of.”
Together, Browne and Blomquist will take “a three-pronged approach to address” their Special Committee’s focus.
“We have substantive law – the UCMJ [Uniform Code of Military Justice] – people in uniform dealing with soldiers,” explains Blomquist leaning back in his office chair, inches below his framed Army company flag from Iraq. “But I think we’d also like to obviously be the catalyst behind these coordinating efforts for providing legal services to people in uniform and their families. And finally, because BRAC is an issue that’s going to impact Maryland tremendously over the decades given the increase in size of Meade and Aberdeen, we believe that’s an area the Military Law Committee could provide services to and be a venue for.”
“We both share a strong motivation to get this off the ground quickly and have it… actually accomplish things,” says Browne. “We obviously come to this from different points of view – I have no military experience and know next-to-nothing about UCMJ.”
But what Browne lacks in background he makes up for in devotion. The genesis for this committee came when Browne was assigned a project in his Consumer Protection Law class at the University of Maryland School of Law. His intention was to marry the project with his avid support of America’s soldiers. Websites like AmericaSupportsYou.mil, SoldiersAngels.com, and AnySoldier.com had become his playground.
“It starts to get a little addictive,” Browne says of these organizations that allow civilians the opportunity to aid active military personnel as well as veterans by sending care packages, letters and other various gifts. The online process was fairly simple, and the stateside law student was happy to oblige. He scribed letters with messages of admiration, hope and encouragement three times a week, and once a week he sent care packages with general needs ranging from toiletries to Beanie Babies, which soldiers give to the Iraqi or Afghan children in hopes of establishing a rapport.
“Just being able to have that one-on-one connection, to be able to send stuff over there, get a nice letter back and feel like I’m doing something besides just watching stuff on the news was pretty rewarding,” Browne admits.
His class project reported “how certain businesses appear to target military personnel” by clustering around bases (in this case, Fort Meade) and commended the Maryland Code for its protection of the men and women in service.
While Browne was sewing his ties to the military here, Blomquist was in Afghanistan helping sew back together a ravaged nation. From 2004-05, Blomquist was in charge of a Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Kandahar City. He and his team dug wells in a land that had experienced nearly a decade of draught, trained police officers in the reformed city and built nearly a dozen schools, including two for girls. “In the States, that’s not a big deal,” he adds, “but in the heart of the Taliban, that’s a pretty dramatic change.”
The changes struck even harder when it was time to roll out Afghanistan’s first democratic election. Blomquist’s PRT was in charge of securing the city’s electoral process. They stored and distributed ballots, and escorted government officials responsible for the election.
“Any sort of disruption would have called into question the legitimacy of the election,” he says.
Security was extremely critical during the counting of the ballots at the city’s old soccer stadium. The 15,000-seat arena was nestled in the heart of the city and required nearly two months of preparation for Blomquist and his personnel. Every conceivable angle had to be protected. The soldiers understood that this venue was juicy bait for insurgents trying to “destabilize the elections.” In fact, the stadium had a fairly maniacal history. The Taliban executed men and women on this grassy plain that now served as the platform for a new Democracy. President Hamid Karzai was inaugurated on December 7, 2004.
A commemorative ballot now hangs on the wall of Blomquist’s Baltimore City office. He holds that experience near and dear to his heart. The same enthusiastic spark that ignites when he speaks of Kandahar blazes when he’s asked about the potential of the Special Committee on Military Law.
“This is really interdisciplinary,” he says. “I think it gives the Military Law Committee, in conjunction with a lot of the other Standing Committees and Sections in the MSBA, an opportunity not only to interact at the MSBA level but also throughout the community. It’s pretty exciting.”
His comparatively green counterpart agrees, and has his sights aimed on Veteran’s benefits.
“We’re trying to develop partnerships where we can do pro bono work and try and help in that area,” states Browne, who attended a Pro Bono Resource Center training seminar on the topic. “As one attorney said, you could literally help a veteran get from living on the street to living independently in an apartment. It’ll be nice if we can help get attorneys in touch with these people to make that change a reality.”