From Enlisted to Officer, Criminal Law All The Way

By Jane LeeMay 20, 2024

From Enlisted to Officer, Criminal Law All The Way
Criminal Law Associate Professor Maj. Cathy Hartsfield is pictured at The Judge Advocate General's Legal Center and School. (Photo Credit: Billie Suttles) VIEW ORIGINAL

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – Tell me you are in the military, without telling me you are in the military. For Florida born, New Jersey raised Maj. Cathy Hartsfield, it might be telling that every one of her four children were born in different states on opposite ends of the nation and even overseas. The associate professor in the Criminal Law Department at The Judge Advocate General’s Legal Center and School is herself the daughter of a former ROK (Republic of Korea) Soldier, who immigrated to the U.S.

“We lived a fairly common immigrant experience,” said Hartsfield. “My dad had recently immigrated to Miami, working as a bartender on Norwegian Cruise Lines. He returned to Korea for a brief visit when he met my mom, who was a nurse.

“They quickly got married and my mom later joined him in the Sunshine State while she was pregnant with me. My parents had a variety of jobs to include waiter, janitor, convenience store and car wash owners. They both retired as dry-cleaning business owners.”

Hartsfield and her younger sister Jennifer were raised in Irvington, New Jersey. “We were living in a dangerous city and my mom sent me to an elite private school which was more than an hour bus commute away,” recalled Hartsfield. “That’s where I was first introduced to L.L. Bean.”

All jokes aside, sending their eldest daughter to the Pingry School, the top private school in the state, shows just how much the family valued education. “My mom was the epitome of the immigrant hustle culture,” said Hartsfield. “To this day, she is the hardest working and most tenacious woman I have ever met. Which I also attribute to how she managed to battle breast cancer for nearly 13 years. My mom passed away in 2020.”

Hartsfield’s father still lives in New Jersey, where Jen is a registered nurse. Hartsfield and her sister share this same desire to serve, despite not sharing anything else besides their diminutive stature. “We could not be any more different in both personalities and physical appearance other than the fact that we are both blessed by our parents to be 5 feet tall.”

Terrorists attacked the World Trade Center on September 11th while Hartsfield was attending the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “I had friends that worked there and it was a terrifying and helpless moment to experience the vulnerability of our nation,” said Hartsfield. “I wanted to finish school but still serve. That’s why I enlisted in the National Guard. I dipped my toes in the legal field as a paralegal and here I am 18 years later.”

A chance encounter with a fellow National Guard named Jeff while they were both deployed to Kuwait in 2007 would change the course of Hartsfield’s life. “We were in different companies, so I didn’t really know him. But we were re-introduced through mutual friends when we returned home and there was an instant spark.

“If someone had told me 20 years ago that I would be married to a guy from Alabama with four kids I would have said to read the tea leaves again. But life has its many surprises, and I am blessed with an amazing family.”

It was Jeff, now a major in the U.S. Army Reserves, who encouraged Hartsfield to go all in with regard to the military. “After college, I was a social worker working on a diversion program to reduce juvenile recidivism,” said Hartsfield. “In that job, I realized that practicing law would be a more effective way that I could assist those in need.”

So, the Jersey girl moved back home to study at Rutgers Law School, with the ultimate goal of joining the Army. Hartsfield earned her Juris Doctorate and got accepted to the JAG Corps in 2012. She came on active duty in 2014, after deferring for a year to finish a clerkship. Hartsfield found her passion in criminal law and the rest as they say is history. “Striving for justice, particularly within our Army, is a small way that we can make meaningful changes in people’s lives.”