ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. -- Lt. Col. Mary Card-Mina, Staff Judge Advocate at the U.S. Army Communications- Electronics Command, or CECOM, is the highest ranking attorney service member at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. Just 20 years ago she never dreamed she would even join the Army.
"I am really one of the first persons in recent memory in my family to join the military," she said.
Card-Mina said she first became interested in the military during her second year of law school when she interned with the Army JAG, or Judge Advocate General's Corps, in Germany at the U.S. Army Claims Service where she worked in the tort law branch examining accident and death cases with the Army as her client.
"I absolutely loved it," she said. "I loved the people; I loved the work, and at the end of the summer, I knew that was what I wanted to do."
She applied for active duty in her third year of law school and was accepted into the JAG Corps. After graduating and passing the bar exam, she attended legal training at the Judge Advocate General's Legal Center and School. Card-Mina deployed to Iraq in 2005 as Brigade Judge Advocate with the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, Fourth Infantry Division.
While in Iraq, she did a little of everything: military justice, legal assistance, claims, operational law, ethics, administrative and civil law, and fiscal law. She also volunteered to work on a project to rebuild a local girl's school.
"Not only was the school rebuilt, but we went in and did career day for the girls," she said. "We had a female mechanic, we had myself as the lawyer, we had a combat medic, and we all talked to the girls about what they hoped to do."
Card-Mina said it's easy to know which side of the moral line you stand on when the issue is girl's education, but once her job as a defense lawyer for the Defense Appellate Division in the U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals in Arlington, Virginia had her up against issues that were not so black and white.
She recalled a case in which she defended a client who was charged with conspiracy to commit murder. The woman had been sentenced to 34 years and was involved with an organized street gang known as the "Gangster Disciples."
"Through that case, I think I really learned about the different paths that people take, and the different experiences that people have," she said. "There were a lot of constitutional issues about things like freedom of association. I feel like that case sort of defined me."
On the days leading up to her argument in court, Card-Mina, then a captain, said a peer and fellow captain took it upon himself to check in with her and talk about the case. He even shared a word of encouragement that Card-Mina said reaffirmed her; she even wrote it in her trial notebook.
She said throughout her career, small moments of self-doubt like this have been overshadowed by the support of others who never questioned her abilities.
"I've always had the people around me, whether it was role models or mentors that either silently or loudly communicated, 'yes, you can.'"
She said she considers retired Brig. Gen. Malinda Dunn, who was the first female active duty general officer in the Army JAG Corps, a personal role model and mentor. Card-Mina served as Dunn's assistant executive officer.
"She was and is still a phenomenal mentor. She is the epitome of taking care of people," she said. "Chaos could be breaking out around you, but she will zero on 'how is your sick child' or know something about your life and ask about that."
Card-Mina participates as a mentor in the official APG mentoring program, has had several male mentors throughout her career and says a person's gender is not as relevant to her as "the quality of the person and the depth of the relationship you have with them."
Despite have a high-powered career, she values her work-life balance, making sure to spend time with her husband and 3-year-old son, James. She said she believes women can 'have it all,' if they know that the balance between career and family will never be perfect.
"It's more like, not by a day do you judge can you have it all. It's more by the week, the month, the year. It's balancing over a bigger period of time," she said.
Prior to becoming the Staff Judge Advocate at CECOM, Card-Mina served as the Deputy Staff Judge Advocate at Fort Sill, Oklahoma for an office of more than 80 military and civilian personnel. She also served as the Chief of Recruiting for the Army JAG Corps.