Scott L. Rolle thought that when he flew into Iraq, someone would get him where he needed to be.
Rolle, a former Frederick County State’s Attorney and an Army Reservist, was on an active-duty assignment for the Army Trial Defense Service that required him to go to Iraq to investigate a case.
After Rolle took a packed, nauseating C-141 flight from Kuwait into the combat zone, he found that no one meeting the military planes in Baghdad knew who he was or how to get him to his destination, Camp Striker. As it was the middle of the night, he slept in a ditch, not knowing whether he would be safe there.
In the morning, he hitched a ride with a military vehicle heading to Camp Striker, but no one held his hand there either. He got a tent, but when he asked for a pillow, he was told, “If you didn’t bring it, we don’t have it.”
“I found a pillow in a trash can,” Rolle recalled.
Rolle joined the Army Reserves right after Sept. 11, 2001 at age 39, when he was still state’s attorney. He went through five weeks of military training and 10 weeks of legal training right away and prepared to be called up. He knew the other lawyers in his office would do a fine job of keeping things running in his absence.
He wasn’t called up right away, and in the meantime, he was drafted by the Republican Party to run for attorney general, which meant he couldn’t run for re-election in Frederick County. When he lost the attorney general’s race, he became a solo criminal defense lawyer.
And that’s when he was called up.
“To be a solo practitioner as I am and to get mobilized to active duty really trashes your practice,” Rolle said.
He brought on two lawyers to keep the practice going during his 13-month deployment, which began in January 2008, but of course that wasn’t the same as running the business himself.
Rolle ended up in the Trial Defense Service at Fort Meade, handling courts-martial and discharges. But the need to investigate one of his cases — he said he can’t get more specific than that — sent him “downrange,” meaning to the battle zone. He found out for sure that he was going on the morning of his flight to Kuwait.
He recounted calling his parents and saying, “I hate to tell you this, but I’m going to Iraq. I don’t know how long I’ll be there and I can’t tell you what I’m doing there.”
Rolle was in Iraq for a month, and aside from his trips in and out, his time there went smoothly, he said. He said he can’t complain when there are soldiers who have been there for a year or are on their second or third tours, and when some of his clients are missing limbs or have traumatic brain injuries.
When it came time to leave, he had to find his way back to Baghdad and arrange his own flight to the U.S. He flew back with a National Guard unit from Mississippi. Before leaving, he was searched by customs agents and then put on lockdown for more than a day. He slept on a box of water bottles.
There were times in Iraq when Rolle questioned his decision to enlist, at his age.
“Getting on the airplane, I asked myself that,” he said. “Lying in that ditch, I asked myself that. Lying on that dirty, crummy pillow, I asked myself that.”
When he got back, he had to build his practice almost from scratch. He was also hit with bills and debt. It took him eight months to financially stabilize himself.
And then Rolle was called up again.
This time, it was only a three-month deployment, which ended this past February. He worked stateside on a task force figuring out a military response to H1N1 — “swine flu.” Since the deployment was short this time, he was able to move most court dates up or back. In the other cases, his brother, with whom he shares a law office, stepped in to help.
Rolle said his time in the military has taught him an important lesson for life, family and the practice of law:
Before his service, he might be tempted to push tasks off on paralegals or young lawyers. Now, while he still believes in delegating when necessary, he’s more inclined to do the really important work, the things that need to get done fast and right, himself.
It’s about “how to get yourself where you need to be without relying on someone else,” he said.