A Lawyer in Combat: Captain Matthew Hover '03
|Capt. Matthew Hover on assignment in Baghdad|
Captain Matthew Hover '03 knows about the curves that life can throw you. He graduated from Michigan State University 10 years ago and embarked on a career as an officer in the U.S. Army. A switch from the Infantry to the Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps followed and now, with the advent of the war in Iraq, he finds himself in Baghdad, plying his legal expertise, serving his country and missing his family.
"Soldiers will sometimes look at me funny when they find out I'm a lawyer, because I wear a Ranger tab, airborne badge, air assault badge, and Expert Infantryman's Badge on my uniform," Matthew says. "I think my past experience in the Infantry gives me a little instant credibility with combat arms leaders and soldiers that other JAG officers might not get."
Such is the goal of the Army's Funded Legal Education Program, through which Matthew attended Moritz. The program lasts for three academic years and allows officers an opportunity to obtain a law degree at an approved civilian law school at government expense. Upon successful completion of a law degree and the bar exam, officers are transferred from their basic branch to the Judge Advocate General Corps.
|Capt. Hover with wife Kate, son William, and daughter Anna, Christmas 2004|
"Roughly 90 percent of JAG officers come directly out of law school with little or no military experience," Matthew says. "So, the Army picks between 15 and 25 officers annually for the program, one goal of which is to create JAG attorneys who have experience with other aspects of the Army."
Several factors led to Matthew's decision to apply. While on assignment in Hawaii, he seriously injured his knee in a football game. During rehabilitation, he started looking into the program.
"All of this was pre-9/11 as well, and although I loved the Army and loved being an Infantry Officer, I had a hard time seeing myself spending 20 years in the Army just training for a threat that really didn't exist at the time," Matthew says. "I guess I should have waited a few years. Little did I know that the events of 9/11 during my second year at Moritz would make the subsequent War on Terror a light infantry fight. However, I don't regret my decision, and I love what I'm doing now."
|View of a dust storm from the palace, damaged from bombing|
In December 2005, Matthew, as a part of the 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division based out of Fort Hood, Texas, was deployed to Iraq, where he serves as Brigade Trial Counsel for the almost 4,000 soldiers. Chief among his duties in Iraq is detainee operations.
"The inexcusable events that occurred at Abu Ghraib caused the military to crack down hard on detainee operations," he says. "We are trained and resourced to properly run the facilities, and detainees are treated above and beyond Geneva Convention requirements."
Matthew trains soldiers on properly collecting evidence when apprehending detainees, and he then provides a 72-hour legal review of each detainee to determine whether the evidence warrants prosecution or release. Other duties include operational law, training soldiers on the law of armed conflict and the rules of engagement, adjudicating claims under the Foreign Claims Act, and prosecuting courts-martial. He will change jobs mid-tour to become the Chief of International and Operational Law for the Multi-National Division – Baghdad.
|Capt. Hover on the balcony behind his office on the third floor of the former palace-turned-office|
Headquartered in one of Qusay Hussein's former bombed-out palaces, Matthew says he tries to get out into the city at least once a week. While there are dangers, the situation is not as bad as many Americans might think.
"There are certainly terrible things happening; there is sectarian violence. Baghdad is still a dangerous place. However, viewed in the big picture of a city of six million people, the violence is much more isolated than it appears on TV," he says."When in the city, I've seen mothers walking with their children, Iraqi workers re-paving roads, children in school uniform coming home from class, Iraqi police patrolling the streets, people going to work, open markets, and other normal things. … There is still a lot of work to be done, but the Iraqis are taking charge of it."
|Daughter Sarah was born the same day he left Texas en route to Baghdad in December of 2005|
The transition back to the Army after law school was not difficult, he says. The transition to law school from the Army brought significant cultural shock.
"I was used to working in a completely male-dominated environment where I spent a lot of long days and nights in austere conditions training for combat. Law school was a nice change of scenery for a while.As you can imagine, the military, and especially the infantry, is a very conservative environment with its own unique culture, jargon, and structure."
By far, the most difficult part of the job is being away from his family — his wife Kate and their three children, including one who was born while he was flying to Iraq. "Missing a year of my kids' lives is painful. I also miss my wife, who has a more difficult job than I do, taking care of three children all three and a half years old and under," he says.
The second most difficult thing about his deployment?
Knowing he'll miss the Ohio State-Texas game this fall.