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- 2005 - January - 26th -

Profile: Attorney Ed Merrigan, on duty in Iraq

Army Reserve Maj. Ed Merrigan is a lawyer at Rinaman and Associates on Kings Avenue. The Avondale resident recently returned to work after a nine-month deployment to Iraq and some time off to recoup.

The 11-year reservist was assigned to the 478th Civil Affairs Battalion, 1st Calvary Division based in Miami.

Where were you deployed?

“Baghdad. My battalion headquarters was in a place called the Green Zone in central Baghdad.”

When were you deployed and when did you return?

“I was deployed to Iraq in February 2004 and I returned to the U.S. in October. We left Iraq in October and we were in Kuwait for about four or five days, flew back to Ft. Bragg, N.C. for about two and a half weeks, then to Miami, and back in Jacksonville the first week in November.”

What was your unit’s major duties and assignments?

“My battalion worked with the 1st Cavalry Division to set up infrastructure for the city of Baghdad and that included all the basic services. One of the things we discovered when we got there is that Suddam Hussein hadn’t been performing any maintenance or basic services on any of the services to produce electricity, water, sewer, or anything for the people. Of course, his regime was toppled, so the government had to be rebuilt from the ground up. Our civil affairs units worked with the local nationals in helping set up local infrastructure, so we were responsible for local government, water, power, sewer, waste disposal, public health, public education — all the basic services. We had specialists that were engineers, city planners, veterinarians, medical officers, environmental science officers, and civil affairs specialists. We worked with all sorts of Iraqi organizations including State Department people and nongovernmental associations to help Iraqis get back on their feet and going. My unit had 200 soldiers and we initiated over 2,000 projects and spent about $58 million helping the Iraqis. Initially, when I went over, I was a legal officer on the staff as a judge advocate but because of transfers and schooling, I became the executive officer of the battalion, which is the second in command of the battalion.”

Did you feel that your training prior to deploying was effective?

“Yes. I’m a qualified civil affairs officer and I was qualified to be the executive officer of the battalion. We were activated in September of 2003 and were on reserve component orders, so I had to travel to several military bases to receive additional training. It was all common task soldier training like marksmanship, convoy operations, map reading, radio procedures, just the basic stuff to refresh everybody because for some people it had been a while. The technology changes, too, so people have to be trained up on the new radios, the new GPS systems or new weapon systems. I bounced around to bases all over the country, Ft. Leonard Wood, Mo., Camp Shelby, Miss., Ft. Polk, La., Ft. Hood, Tex., and Ft. Bragg, N.C. It was actually good because everywhere we went, we received additional training, so by the time we were in Iraq we were very well trained and very well equipped. We constantly received new equipment while we were there.”

Did your unit do any work with the Iraqi general population?

“We dealt with them everyday. We went out into the city and met with the Iraqis three or four times a week. We would go to the district council meetings, city hall and met with different director generals of the different services for the city to work with them. A lot of them spoke English, but for the most part we worked through interpreters.”

How many people were from Jacksonville that were deployed with your unit?

“I was the only one from Jacksonville. The unit is out of Miami, so most of the people were from the Miami area or Florida in general.”

Are you expected to go back in the near future?

“I don’t know. Under the federal law, the current interpretation is that they can keep us on active duty for up to 24 months and we spent a little over 12 months on active duty, so as far as the Army is concerned, we still have another 12 months on the books from our unit. If I were to go back, I would go back with the entire unit and if it happens, it happens. I think I have another one in me, but it was a long year.”

Were there any skills from your law background that you used while in the army?

“All the time. There were a lot of lawyers in Iraq doing all kinds of things because basically they were trying to rebuild their justice system from the ground up. The Iraqis have a civil system, which is a lot different than ours is. The central criminal court of Iraq in Baghdad was up and running at full function. All the judges had been vetted to see whether they were Baath Party loyalists. There is also a law school in Baghdad, The University of Baghdad.”

Has it been difficult to readjust to civilian life?

“It was a big culture shock, it changed real dramatically being able to walk outside my house without putting a helmet on or carrying a weapon and being able to get in my vehicle and drive wherever I wanted without having to get together a convoy and do a convoy brief, coordinate all the support and the radio frequencies and the quick reaction forces, and making sure the routes were clear. It was just really strange and there was no background noise. When you’re in Iraq, there’s always background noise: helicopters, generators, or trucks. It’s not that you’re getting shot at 24 hours, that’s not it. There was just a lot of background noise because the generators were always cranking. Hot water on demand is a lot of fun, too. I was just tired, so I took some time off and I ate a lot of good food. We worked seven days a week in Iraq, 12-14 hours a day and no days off. There was a leave program in place for soldiers to go home for two weeks, but as good leaders, the junior guys went first, the guys with new babies or small children and the newlyweds, so we tried to get those folks taken care of. We had about 14 or 15 females in the battalion and they did a great job.”

How did your family do while you were away?

“They did all right. I’m not married so I didn’t have to worry about a wife or children, but it was really tough on my parents, especially my mom. When we got back to Miami, my family was there in the hanger when we landed and my poor mom was just inconsolable. I felt so bad. It was tough on them. There are no good news stories because that doesn’t sell, so I told her not to watch it. There is good stuff that happens over there all the

time, $58 million of good stuff. My unit brought incubators and invitro fertilization devices to the local maternity hospitals, increased fresh water supply, increased electrical output, got schools online, we did projects for waste and trash removal, police and Iraqi National Guard recruiting — you name it, my guys were involved in helping these

people.”

What kind of law do you practice?

“I do insurance defense litigation, commercial litigation and a little bit of bankruptcy.”

What did you do prior to working at this law firm?

“I was an in-house attorney with Barnett Bank until three years ago. Before I left for Iraq I was with another law firm, McConnaughhay, Duffy, Coonrod, Pope, and Weaver. Several of the employees left that company while I was away and formed Rinaman and Associates. This is my first week back at work.”

How did your employer handle your leaving for the war?

“They were very supportive. They threw a real nice party for me, bought me a portable DVD player, and sent letters.”

– by Carrie Resch

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