Michael L. Detzky has spent much of his legal career in Monmouth County, specializing in bankruptcy and immigration matters. But his heart is with the U.S. Navy, where he was a Reserve officer with the Judge Advocate General’s Corps and served on missions all over the world. On Dec. 31, 2012, at a formal ceremony at the former Officers’ Club at McGuire Air Force Base, Capt. Detzky retired after 30 years with the Navy Judge Advocate Corps Reserve. Detzky, 59, a 1978 graduate of Rutgers School of Law-Newark, continues to practice law, but expects to miss the military. “I just had a fantastic, fascinating career,” he says.
Q. Did you become a reservist because you wanted to avoid active service?
A. No. I wasn’t subject to the draft, when it still existed.
Q. What attracted you to the Navy?
A . My uncle was a trial attorney in Manhattan, and from a very young age he basically decided for me that I would be an attorney. But I was always interested in the Navy from a very young age. I don’t know if it’s because I was born in 1953 and grew up seeing war movies and hearing about veterans and knowing John F. Kennedy was a naval officer, or what. I actually considered joining the Navy Reserve in high school, as well in college and in law school. Every time though, friends and family talked me out of it.
Q. When did you stop listening to friends and family?
A. When I was 30. A friend told me about a new program with the Navy where you could get commissioned directly into the Reserve without any active duty. This time I didn’t tell anybody I was applying, not even my wife.
Q. How did you mesh your absences from home with your law practice?
A. I made it work. When you enjoy something, you make time for it, and for much of this time I was working for myself. I didn’t have to worry if the people in the firm liked my being involved. In the early days you would drill one weekend per month, plus two weeks, usually in the summer. Later, I did more. For instance, this past year I did close to 100 days of active duty.
Q. Didn’t your being out of the country make some clients unhappy?
A. I never worried about that. I must tell you, my Naval Reserve career was more important to me than my law career. My wife would often say my priorities were screwed up, but that was the truth. And I was able to make a living.
Q. Did you ever imagine you’d serve 30 years?
A. Not really, but as my responsibilities increased the assignments became much more engaging and interesting and sexy. I was sent to Panama, after Noreiga’s ouster, to instruct the new Panamanian forces about human rights. I was sent to Zambia, and Korea. As I got more senior, I worked in appellate law on behalf of sailors and Marines, or on behalf of the government. I had one assignment where I was lead officer on a four-person team that went around the world and basically instructed senior officers on sexual assault prevention and response.
Q. You were honored at a retirement ceremony in December. What was that like?
A. It was like a wedding. Really. It was very moving. We had a color guard and Navy band playing. I brought my very first commander out of retirement to take my final salute. You face the senior officer and say, “Request permission to go ashore.” The bosun’s whistle sounds; your colleagues salute you; you get your spouse and then the bells sound and they say, “Captain and Mrs. Detzky, departing.” I took her arm and went across the red carpet. Then we went to the reception.
Q. Any chance you can spice up your civilian life?
A. I plan to reinvent myself a little. In 2006, I merged my firm and became part of Detzky & Hunter. I merged my practice with my brother-in-law. He exclusively practices public sector labor law, and I am slowly learning that business. We’re going to find out if you can teach an old dog new tricks.