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Alumni in Afghanistan

Bill Kelly, LW’99, and Maj. Mike Wunn, JO’99, LW’01, Drake graduates who were deployed to Afghanistan with the Iowa National Guard, spoke at Drake University on March 13 as part of The Principal Financial Group Center for Global Citizenship’s spring lecture series.

In their speech, “An Afghan Odyssey: Legal and Media Issues through the Eyes of Two Lawyers Deployed with the Iowa National Guard,” the men offered insight into the complexities of war and litigation that the two encountered during their 2010 deployment with the 2/34th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, “Task Force Red Bulls.”

Maj. Mike Wunn in Afghanistan

Kelly served as a brigade judge advocate and conducted comprehensive counter insurgency operations while facilitating competency and credibility of Afghan provincial and district institutions. One of the challenges he faced was doing his job while working with other countries’ forces in order to ensure that international laws were followed.

“It was our mission to make their courts, cops and corrections better,” says Kelly. “We were running training programs for Afghan judges, prosecutors and lawyers, as well as local police.”

Wunn, who had previously deployed to Kosovo as well as countries in Central America, Europe and southwest Asia, focused on providing media support and guidance to commanders and soldiers. He worked with the news media to share the story of the deployment by facilitating coverage of pre-deployment activities. Once he was in Afghanistan, he collaborated with Afghan journalists to provide information about security, governance and development efforts.

According to Wunn, one of the key challenges on the job was striking the right balance between obligations to keep the American public informed while using information operations to help improve security among the Afghan people.

“Social media allowed opportunities to help keep people informed and allow soldiers to communicate with people at home, but also presented the challenge of maintaining operational security,” Wunn says.

Working in Afghanistan allowed the two to see the benefits of the United States’ military involvement firsthand.

“The Afghan people have a long road to travel before the government can take care of their people,” says Kelly. “I was impressed at how hard the military and U.S. agencies worked to help them.”

Both Kelly and Wunn found the National Guard through Drake ROTC. They say their experiences at Drake taught them the importance of leadership and gave them the skills and opportunities to serve their country.

Kelly cites Russell Lovell, professor of law, and participation in Drake Law School’s Public Service Scholarship Program as critical parts of his time at Drake.

“We would have meetings with Professor Lovell about what we could do as Drake Law graduates to promote justice, how to serve as leaders in our communities and ultimately how to respond to the call of public service,” says Kelly.

Kelly saw the National Guard as a way to serve in the military while living in Iowa and maintaining his career as a lawyer.

Wunn says his decision to join the Iowa National Guard came about by being in the right place at the right time. Commissioned as a second lieutenant through Drake ROTC in 1991, his plan was to go into the U.S. Army Reserve as an air defense artillery officer. When a professor suggested he take an opening in a mobile public affairs detachment unit in the National Guard, he immediately changed his plans, favoring the position that would incorporate his journalism background.

Kelly and Wunn returned to their civilian positions after deployment but have new outlooks and opportunities. Wunn was recently selected to serve as an international partnership specialist, coordinating the state’s partnership program with the Republic of Kosovo.

For Kelly, returning to the United States brings the opportunity to put ideas learned in Afghanistan into practice. Mediation, he says, is an approach to problem solving that he now finds more valuable.

“I have found that many times, the parties have the solution to their issues and they are better off spending their time mediating rather than trying to have someone else force an answer,” says Kelly. “Our answers sometimes did not work in Afghanistan because it was not an Afghan solution.”

The two lawyers gave Drake students a sense of the complex problems that exist in Afghanistan and the hard work that is being done to solve them.

“I wanted to share our experience because we should be proud of what our people are doing there,” says Kelly.