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Jim Georges knew it could happen. But the White and Williams associate was still shocked when he received a call in November 2003 from U.S. military personnel telling him he had three days to report to active duty. The 45-year-old married father of two had no time to reflect on his pending deployment to Iraq. He quickly worked with his law firm to transfer files to other lawyers while bracing his family for his new assignment. That assignment was viewed as one of the more dangerous ones in the Iraqi theater. As a lieutenant colonel in the reserves, he was asked to leave his regular unit in Willow Grove and assume leadership of a 424th military police detachment based in northeastern Pennsylvania. A year-and-a-half later, Georges has ended his tour — spent mostly in the sweltering heat of the Iraqi desert north of Baghdad dealing with an Iranian terrorist group — and returned to his firm with a Bronze Star for his efforts. Though MPs are considered military support, they are often assigned to high-risk assignments such as providing security in prisons, courts and other public places and training Iraqis to serve as police officers. To make matters worse, right before his unit deployed to the Middle East, the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal broke, putting the spotlight on the actions of American MPs. To prepare, Georges’ unit was sent to Fort Dix in New Jersey to receive three months of training from Federal Bureau of Prisons officials and military personnel. They received instruction on everything from how to respond when your convoy is fired upon, running a checkpoint and how to use non-lethal weapons such as Tasers and tear gas. They shipped out Feb. 29, 2004, and arrived in Kuwait two days later. In light of Abu Ghraib, Georges felt his legal training made him perfectly suited for the MP work. “It gave me an understanding of the Geneva Conventions in terms of dealing with detainees and making sure my unit treated people with dignity and respect,” Georges said. “But I think most of my subordinates knew that as well. I think part of the reason they wanted me to take the MP position was because of Abu Ghraib and to make sure there were no more controversies.” Georges’ friends and colleagues said he always kept an upbeat attitude despite the possible perils of his military service. The Wallingford native said he knows that he owes much of his education to the military, which paid for his college tuition at Drexel University and most of his tuition for an MBA — which he obtained while serving four years of active duty. The military also covered most of his tuition at Temple University Law School. But at the same time, he has given the military 20 years of service, including spending a year in South Korea when he was previously called up to active duty. After graduating from law school in 1990, Georges took a job as an associate at Buchanan Ingersoll, where he worked for two former U.S. Attorneys — David Marston and Peter Vaira — handling white-collar defense litigation. He left for a year’s clerkship with U.S. District Judge Eduardo Robreno in 1992 before joining Vaira at his new firm, Vaira & Riley. He spent four years there and joined White and Williams in 1997, where his practice emphasis changed to insurance litigation. In the summer of 2002, though, he joined the creditor’s rights litigation practice led by partner Robert Kargen. “He’s a terrific lawyer who has a specialty in collecting accounts receivable and avoidance actions such as preferences,” Kargen said. “At the time he got called up, he had just finished work on a major matter and had received praise from the judge. “We were very concerned for his safety, because being a policeman in Iraq is probably the most dangerous thing you could do. They are blowing up police stations over there. We’re just glad to have him back and so are our clients.” Due to the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act passed by Congress after the first Gulf War, servicemen and women are entitled to retain their health care benefits while in active duty and, once they return, receive a job comparable to the one they held upon their departure. White and Williams took things a step further and paid the difference between Georges’ military and law firm paychecks. Georges and his 12-member unit spent nearly three weeks in Kuwait before receiving orders to report to Baghdad. He said the three-day drive through the southern Shiite-dominated territory was uneventful, but when he arrived at the capital city, incoming mortar fire was a regular occurrence. But he didn’t have to deal with that for long as his unit was sent to Camp Ashraf, a remote desert outpost north of Baghdad near the Iranian border but below Kurdish territory. It was there that he was given command of a joint task force of hundreds of American military and civilian (departments of State, Justice and Homeland Security) personnel responsible for dealing with 3,800 members of the Peoples Mujahedeen Organization of Iran, better known as Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK). Designated as a terrorist group, MEK members are Iranians with a philosophy that mixes Marxism and Islam. Formed in the 1960s, the organization was expelled from Iran after the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Its primary support since the late 1980s came from the former Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein. Near the end of his country’s war with Iran, Saddam armed the MEK with military equipment and sent it into action against Iranian forces. In 1991, the group assisted Saddam in suppressing the Shiite uprising in southern Iraq and the Kurdish uprising in the north. Georges said because the group was accused of committing heinous acts against the Kurds and other Iraqis, the MEK was not exactly a popular bunch. His assignment was to make sure the group — disarmed and isolated in one village — was protected while military and civilian personnel could determine final disposition. Some would be sent back to Iran while others would be arrested and prosecuted. The major problem was that the United States does not have diplomatic relations with Iran, so the International Red Cross took the lead role in negotiating with the Islamic government. “I think my legal training came in handy here as well,” Georges said. “I was used to dealing with people who were hostile from my time in court and in mediations and ADR. I just sort of applied my dispute resolution skills to deal with the situation.” Georges said convoy trips were always considered dangerous, as Baathist terrorists would often engage in sniper fire, set roadside bombs or launch rockets at the traveling soldiers. He said that he did not often come under fire in Camp Ashraf, and that terrorists were able to initiate attacks in urban areas such as Baghdad because they had places to hide. In the desert, they had no place to hide and launch attacks. But being in such a remote area also had its drawbacks. The PX at Camp Ashraf was as large as a partner’s office at White and Williams, leaving soldiers desperately seeking creature comforts. Enter the lawyers and staff at White and Williams and Pepper Hamilton. Georges’ assistant, Deborah Alleva, corresponded with her boss a few times a month via e-mail and distributed his letters, often including pictures, to the lawyers and staff at the firm. In November 2004, she sent a care package to Georges that included Tastykakes, Pepperidge Farm cookies and other delicacies. Not to be outdone, Nadine O’Hara, a former secretary at White and Williams who now works at Pepper Hamilton, took up a collection of food, toiletries, books, movies and magazines. She sent more than 50 boxes to Georges with Pepper Hamilton picking up the hefty postage fee. In addition to lifting the morale of the troops, Georges said the food in particular helped ease relations with Iraqis. “We gave a lot of the candy to the Iraqi children and we made a lot of friends that way.” Georges said. He said during his year in Iraq, he received numerous letters and packages from Philadelphia lawyers, many just wishing to offer words of encouragement. Upon the completion of his mission, Georges was awarded the Bronze Star by his commanding officer, Maj. Gen. Geoffrey D. Miller. In the narrative accompanying the medal, Miller said Georges was an essential link between various governmental agencies and military personnel. “At times under direct and indirect fire Lt. Col. Georges contributed significantly to the tactical, operational and strategic success of extremely sensitive political and diplomatic missions involving the People’s Mujahedeen Organization of Iran,” Miller wrote. “Lt. Col. Georges’ relentless drive, unflagging devotion to duty, consummate professionalism, responsible leadership and outstanding mission accomplishments are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself … and the United States Army.” Georges became the second White and Williams lawyer to receive the Bronze Star in the past year. Platte Moring, the managing partner of the firm’s Allentown, Pa., office, received the award last year before returning from more than a year in Afghanistan, where he helped write the country’s new constitution. Though many don’t like the pace of reconstruction, Georges said he found Iraqis were pleased to have the Americans there. But his feeling is they want to make their own decisions and stand on their own feet. He said he was most proud on Jan. 30 when 8 million Iraqis participated in a historic election. “That day started as being pretty tense because you didn’t know what to expect,” Georges said. “But it was definitely a watershed event for the Iraqi people. It was the start of two things I think they need to do. They need to elect a government and establish the rule of law. Some places there are like the Wild West, with terrorists having their way by intimidating people. They need to further establish their legal system and build up their police force.” It is with that hope that Georges returned home from Iraq earlier this month to his wife Lynne, a lawyer with the U.S. Department of Defense, and his children Christopher, 7, and Sara, 3. Even though it is remote, Georges knows there is a chance he could be called to serve once again. But for now, he is spending time with his family at their home in Abington, Pa., before reporting for a different kind of duty next month, when he can turn his attention to arguing with opposing counsel instead of terrorists. “I think I have a greater understanding of people from different cultures,” Georges said. “With my practice, I see intense disputes over money. Over there, they were fighting for something much greater — liberty and the right to guide their own destiny. And it’s going to be a long process. But look at our own country and how long it took us to write our Constitution. But they did make progress while I was there and I think it will continue.”

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