Assistant DA to ship out to Afghanistan

July 04, 2005|by DON AINES


For the next six months, Franklin County Assistant District Attorney Matthew Fogal will be Capt. Fogal of the Pennsylvania National Guard, taking part in his second overseas deployment, this time to Afghanistan.

Fogal, 33, was handling criminal arraignments Wednesday afternoon, his next-to-last day on the job before reporting to Fort Benning, Ga., for later deployment to Afghanistan's capital city of Kabul.

"I'm directly working for Centcom," said Fogal who, as an attorney, is a member of the Judge Advocate General's Corps. Central Command is the military region that covers Southwest Asia, he said.


"I do not know, specifically, what my mission will be over there," he said. The popular image of a JAG officer's duties might be of courts-martial and disciplinary proceedings, but Fogal said the workload can involve much more.

With the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib in Iraq and questions about the treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, Fogal said detention procedures can fall within the purview of a JAG officer, as well as death investigations and interpreting rules of engagement, and international conventions and protocols.

Assisting deployed soldiers with legal issues back home also can be a part of a JAG officer's duties, he said.

Since being hired by the county in 2002, Fogal has already spent nearly a year overseas in Kosovo in the Balkans. Mobilization, he said, is likely to be a reality of guard and reserve duty for the foreseeable future, he said.

"This ain't dad's National Guard," said Fogal. He tells those who ask him about joining the guard "to expect 100 percent to be deployed at least once. Otherwise, don't enlist."

"There's got to be a bigger reason to join than just money ... and there is a good reason," said Fogal. "I haven't forgotten Sept. 11."

"We're very proud of Matt and the fact that he's already served in Kosovo. We want to support our troops and we want to support him," said Fogal's civilian boss, District Attorney John F. Nelson, a former guard officer.

"That was in an era when we were very rarely mobilized for anything other than natural disasters," Nelson said of his 12 years of guard service.

Once maligned as "weekend warriors," members of the guard and reserves now serve alongside regular units. Nelson said the uncertainties of guard and reserve duty are affecting the livelihoods of those who serve and the organizations in which they serve.

Nelson said some employers, particularly small businesses dependent on a few key employees, might come to the point where they "think twice about hiring someone in the guard or reserve."

"It is impacting the guard and reserve recruiting," Nelson said.

A former infantryman, Fogal said he is not worried about going "where the real bad guys are."

"The absolute hardest part is you worry about what you could be doing to help out at home," he said, referring to his wife, Dana, and children, Alex and Karli.

Prior generations, however, were called upon to make greater sacrifices, he said.

"You think of those that went before ... and now it's our time to step up," said Fogal.

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