Silberman ’07: Juggling Several Duties in Afghanistan
Since starting his new job in February, Tom Silberman ’07 still carries many of the same items to work as other attorneys, except one – a rifle.
“Not many lawyers carry a rifle to work and back on a daily basis,” Silberman said. “Some perhaps carry guns depending on their practice, their clients, or geographical locations, but not rifles and not openly. Here it’s required. While I am a lawyer, I am also a soldier.”
Silberman is an attorney with the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps for the 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne) at Forward Operating Base Salerno in Afghanistan. Silberman was assigned to the unit last summer, from its home station in Anchorage, Alaska.
“When you join JAG, you are assigned to a unit anywhere in the country or world. Whatever that unit does, you do it with them,” he said. “The unit was slotted to go to Afghanistan before I arrived, so once I was part of the unit, I was slotted to go with them as the Brigade Trial Counsel. Now, I’m here.”
This is Silberman’s first combat deployment. He has over 16 years of military experience and has previously been on training and diplomatic missions through out the Middle East to places like Morocco, Egypt, Israel, and Jordon. He has been stationed at Ford Hood, Texas; Fort Gordon, Georgia; Mons, Belgium (SHAPE), and Fort Richardson, Alaska.
Having worked formerly as a U.S. Army intelligence analyst and an Arabic and Hebrew linguist, his current position as a JAG is quite different.
“Work has proved be a mélange of legal disciplines,” Silberman said. “Military justice is my primary job. Here, we process mostly what we call ‘non-judicial’ punishment.”
When a soldier commits a misdemeanor such as petty crime or violates a regulation particular to the military, the military uses a process called an “Article 15.”
“Instead of pressing charges and going through a litigation process, our commanders (use) an Article 15, which is a boilerplate form used to punish the soldier for violations without court proceedings,” he said. “Defense counsels are involved in the process and advise solders of their rights and options, such as the right to demand trial by court martial.”
If the crime is severe or serious enough it will proceed with a court martial, but that is usually reserved for felonies, according to Silberman.
Silberman’s other duties include being the legal assistance attorney. “This comes with services ranging from ministerial duties like drafting powers of attorney and medical directives to debt consultation, personal claims, and advising soldiers facing the unfortunate likelihood of divorce while they are deployed,” he said.
He also acts as the legal representative for their detention operations, advising, and ensuring that the facilities are in accordance with the Geneva Conventions.
When he returns to the U.S. in February 2010, he plans to put in for reassignment to Washington, D.C., and finish out his 20 years of military service. He then hopes to find work in the private sector as a solo practitioner in Northern Virginia and is considering practicing Intelligence Law for the government.