GAITHERSBURG, Maryland - After 11 years serving as U.S. Army judge advocates, Maj. Laura O'Donnell and Maj. Marcus Misinec left active duty and settled in O'Donnell's hometown of Kokomo, Indiana.
They met in 2006, while attending the Judge Advocate Officer Basic Course, and married six months later. Together, they embarked on a decade-long odyssey, serving the JAG Corps in California, Hawaii, Colorado, and Virginia. Between them, they have six overseas deployments. O'Donnell deployed to Iraq twice. Misinec served three Iraq tours and one in Afghanistan.
Yet, the couple is not done serving. They both recently joined U.S. Army Reserve Legal Command.
Described by fellow JAG officers as driven and motivated, they exemplify how dedicated Soldiers contribute to Army readiness. Plus, they know firsthand how reserve JAGs complement active duty legal missions.
During their active careers, they worked alongside Reserve Soldiers. Other JAG Corps friends already went to the Army Reserve. So, they knew that transitioning to a civilian legal career can also come with an opportunity to continue serving.
"I don't think people give the Reserve enough credit. Many times, you have people who served 12 to 14 years on active duty and done multiple deployments. They have experience from both the active component and their civilian jobs," O'Donnell said. "That's why we both joined the Army Reserve."
Now, assigned to the 91st Legal Operations Detachment (LOD), O'Donnell and Misinec are already making a difference. Misinec recently organized and managed a regional training event at Fort Knox, Kentucky utilizing the vast military justice experience of O'Donnell and other former active-duty judge advocates who recently transitioned to the reserves. Their instruction benefited roughly 50 reserve, National Guard and active-duty JAG Corps Soldiers. They tackled tough topics, like Article 120 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which covers rape and sexual assaults.
"Their dedication to the JAG Corps and their county is wonderful," said Col. Nicholas Lorusso, commander of the 91st LOD. "They are role models for our junior officers."
The Army Reserve provides approximately 87 percent of the Army's legal units and approximately 40 percent of the Army's attorneys. A direct reporting unit to U.S. Army Reserve Command, USARLC oversees 1,800 personnel stationed in 43 states, plus two overseas locations. There are 28 LODs across the nation.
Most LODs provide general legal services, administrative and operational law. Three LODs focus on trial defense services, defending Army Reserve Soldiers accused of misconduct. One provides Army judges for courts-martial and another provides attorneys with specialized legal knowledge to the active component.
New Army Reserve lawyers sometimes earn direct commissions and may not have served in the active Army. Integrating active-component JAG officers is important to Reserve units, Lorusso said.
"We need that influx of the (active-component) personnel, their knowledge and their experience," he added.
O'Donnell first thought of serving while still in college, after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, she recently told her local newspaper, The Kokomo Perspective.
"It affected me in the sense that I knew once that happened I was going to do something that could make a difference," O'Donnell said.
While serving with the 25th Infantry Division in Hawaii, she began in administrative law but wounded up as a trial counsel and operational law attorney. Her first Iraq deployment was eight months, her second for a year. Afterward, O'Donnell served as a criminal defense attorney at Fort Carson, Colorado, taking part in more than 60 felony courts-martial, and later at the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command at Peterson Air Force Base.
O'Donnell capped off her time on active duty with a Department of the Army-level achievement. It stemmed from three years of hard work at the Judge Advocate General's Legal Center and School in Charlottesville, Virginia.
In 2013, O'Donnell became editor of the quarterly-published Military Law Review, the preeminent legal publication on military law. Without a communications background, she had to "adapt and go with it," she said. In 2015, after earning her Master of Laws, O'Donnell became director of the school's professional communication program, overseeing both the Military Law Review and a monthly magazine, called the Army Lawyer. She selected and copy edited articles. She also assisted in the hiring of a technical editor to improve the appearance of the publications.
During her tenure, she oversaw 16 publications which included 118 professional articles -- a wealth of information to inform and guide military legal officers worldwide. She reduced the percentage of errors and published the articles online, to further the reach of the publications.
Her efforts paid off.
In June, Robert Speer, then-acting Secretary of the Army, presented O'Donnell with the Secretary of the Army Award for Editor of the year (Departmental at a Pentagon ceremony.
Misinec transitioned to the Army Reserve in late 2016. In July, O'Donnell left active duty. They were looking to settle down in a community and be closer to family, O'Donnell said.
Firms often hire lawyers familiar with criminal defense, wills, powers of attorney, divorces, custody, adoptions and naturalization. Army lawyers do all that -- often in combat zones. On deployments, judge advocates also advise commanders on international law and the laws of warfare.
A Kokomo law firm brought them aboard as partners. Veteran and military-related legal matters are among their legal specialties.
Serving in the Army Reserve was part of their plan. Misinec joined the 91st LOD in January. O'Donnell joined in July. The 91st LOD is one of 28 units under the U.S. Army Reserve Legal Command. Soldiers in the 91st LOD serve at four Midwest locations; Darien, Illinois, Davenport, Iowa, Camp Atterbury, Indiana and Fort Benjamin Harrison, in Indianapolis.
"It speaks volumes of their characters," said Lt. Col. Steve Fillenwarth, who oversees the 91st LOD's Indianapolis-based team where both Misinec and O'Donnell now serve.
Misinec is a natural leader who is dedicated to improving the integration of the active-duty and Reserve component, Fillenwarth said.
"He hit the ground running," said Fillenwarth. "Having both Maj. Misinec and Maj. O'Donnell is a huge asset to our team."