by Heather Cline Hoganson
Steve Wang, a native of Taipei, Taiwan, joined the Army right after 9/11, as a way of “giving back to our great nation as an immigrant.” He was mobilized to the Pentagon from 2007-2008 (Operation Enduring Freedom) and deployed with the 1st Cavalry Division to Afghanistan from 2011-2012. Wang recalls arriving In Afghanistan during “fighting season.” “The area of responsibility was large, and the operational tempo was high. As a result, there were a lot of casualties and deaths. Many of us attended ramp ceremonies almost on a daily basis as we were sending fallen heroes home to their families and loved ones.” Wang now serves as the City Attorney of Folsom. “I will always be grateful to my brothers and sisters-in-arms who shared the sandbox with me, especially those who did not make it home to their families and loved ones. These great patriotic American heroes are always in my mind when I’m sitting at my desk at City Hall.”
Brandon Erickson enlisted in the Army in 1999 and deployed to Iraq in 2003 for Operation Iraqi Freedom. He was severely wounded in combat, receiving the Purple Heart and Bronze Star with the “V” device for valor in combat. After completing his rehabilitation at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, Erickson committed himself to making the most out of his “second chance” at life. He used his educational benefits as a wounded veteran to go back to school. He supports veterans’ causes including of Operation Rebound – a non-profit dedicated to getting wounded veterans back to a healthy active lifestyle. He also chairs a scholarship committee for high school students who write essays on patriotism. To Erickson patriotism means understanding the sacrifices others have made for this country. “I have been to some really bad places; we Americans have it pretty good, and we should not take this for granted.” After spending almost four years as a Deputy District Attorney in El Dorado County, Erickson opened his own firm, Erickson Law Offices, PC, in Gold River.
Ryan Wood, a partner at Stoel Rives, LLP, joined the Navy out of high school in 1993 and remained in the Navy Reserves, serving a total of 20 years. After enlisting, he served as a sonar technician on the USS Antietam. Switching to the Reserves in 1998, Wood earned his BA and JD while remaining in the enlisted ranks. He served with the Navy Seabees (the civil engineering component for the Navy and Marine Corps). In 2006, he deployed with his Seabee battalion, NMCB-18, to support the Marines in Al Anbar Province, Iraq, during Operation Iraqi Freedom. He served there as the Battalion Intelligence Chief, responsible for threat assessment and mission planning.
Assistant US Attorney Jill Thomas had been considering the FBI as she finished law school in 1997, when a classmate mentioned that she was joining the military “to see the world.” Although Thomas found it interesting to be a gay female in the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” era of the military, she has enjoyed and is grateful for her experience. Thomas was on active duty for over nine years, and then switched to the Air Force Reserves. She is currently with Moffett Operations Central (Southern) Command. She credits the US Attorney’s Office for being supportive of her military commitments.
Two Orrick lawyers, Rabindra (Rabi) David and Nick Horton, are military veterans. David earned his wings flying as an electronic warfare officer on the AC-130 gunship before becoming a logistics maintenance officer for the RC-135 “Rivet Joint.” He deployed to the Middle East for Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. After eight years in the Air Force, David went to law school. He later re-joined the Air Force as a JAG officer, separating in October 2016 to join Orrick. In addition to his white collar internal investigations practice, David provides pro bono representation to veterans seeking disability benefits. Horton served on active duty from 2001-2008 as an infantry officer in the Marine Corps. He had three deployments to Iraq three between 2003 and 2005. After settling in Sacramento, he attended Pacific McGeorge, graduating Order of the Coif in 2012. He returned to service with the Marine Corps Reserves as an infantry officer, “which is a great escape from the office and allows me to still get my boots dirty once and a while.” Both David and Horton credit Orrick for supporting the military.
Felix De La Torre is the General Counsel of the Public Employment Relations Board. He joined the California Army National Guard while still in high school, using the summer between his junior and senior year to complete basic training. After finishing high school, he completed Combat Engineer training and transferred to the Air Force. De La Torre used his military education benefits to pay for his education. “I credit my military experience with giving me the confidence and discipline needed to attain my educational goals. … Had I not enlisted, I am fairly certain that I would not be an attorney today.“
For Eric Miller, his plans to attend law school while serving his “one weekend per month, two weeks per year” with the California Army National Guard changed after 9/11. He was activated and soon sent to Iraq. “I ended up filling out law school applications from my tent in southern Iraq and went to law school after I returned,” he explains. After his service in Operation Iraqi Freedom as first lieutenant, he graduated from law school in 2008, clerked for a federal judge, and wound up at Boutin Jones where he handles business and real estate litigation.
Roosevelt O’Neal remembers joining the military in 1960 when he was a 17-year-old high school drop-out. Because he was not yet 18, he had to have his mother sign his paperwork. He spent eight years in the Air Force, learning teletype communications at Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas, and serving with top secret military clearance in the Philippines, Japan, Oklahoma, and California, before his honorable discharge. Back in San Francisco and now married with two children, he used his GI bill benefits to enroll in City College, with the idea of becoming a doctor. However, a conversation with a local doctor convinced him that law school would be a better career path, so he enrolled at USF Law School and was admitted to the Bar in 1979. O’Neal became the first black CalTrans attorney in 1980, before he opened a private solo practice. He credits his military training, with an emphasis on loyalty and responsibility, in helping him be organized and maintain a dedication and sense to duty towards his clients.
Alejandro Mejia starts law school at Pacific McGeorge in August – quite a change from the four years he served in the Army as a combat medic. Mejia is the son of immigrant parents. “I felt the need to give something back to the country that had already given my family a shot at a better quality of life, so the added bonus of being able to help my parents [financially] helped me decide what to do.” Straight from training, Mejia deployed with the 1st Infantry Division, 1-4 Cavalry Squadron, Apache Company to FOB Sykes located outside of Tal-Afar, Iraq, serving as his platoon’s medic. He has been working as a legal assistant with the Voluntary Legal Services Program. “I think he’s a terrific young man,” say VLSP Managing Attorney Vicki Jacobs.