South Side prosecutor lawyers for his country — in Afghanistan
By Lauren FitzPatrick Sun-Times Media firstname.lastname@example.org June 15, 2012 6:18PM
Photo of 1st Lt. Dan Griffin, right, and his friend, 1st Lt. Mark Hanifin during their Officer Training in the Spring of 2011. Provided Photo
Updated: July 18, 2012 6:25AM
In the middle of a dusty nowhere, amid farmers and mud houses, 7,000 miles up in Afghanistan’s eastern mountains, America takes one of its last offensive stands after more than a decade of war.
Here in green camouflage, a South Side prosecutor is lawyering for his country.
Dan Griffin, an assistant state’s attorney raised in Oak Lawn, has been deployed to Ghazni province as an Army attorney.
Some days he helps Afghans file damage claims against the American government.
He interprets rules of engagement for U.S. commanders making battle calls.
And he walks the troops deployed with him through legal issues from back home, he said, “to make these guys’ lives as easy as possible.”
That’s how he sees his own mission: To keep the folks on the front line as happy as possible, to remove obstacles and distractions from their lives so they can face a shifty enemy.
Griffin didn’t want to appear in the newspaper. Though experienced in front of a jury, the 31-year-old Army captain is uneasy as the center of attention.
He’s only on his first deployment, he explained. And his own job is Ghazni is relatively safe.
It’s the young guys, 19- 20- 21-year-olds who’ve been back and forth to this war — and back and forth on patrol — who really deserve a story, he said.
Which is why, in the end, he consented.
“I work with people who, when you see it every day, they don’t think they’re doing brave things, but for me as a Reservist, it’s kind of an honor working with people who are really brave and hardworking,” he said.
“They’re out here in the trenches. They’re in it, you know?”
Little taste of home
Griffin’s old boss back home once wore an Army uniform.
Arunas Buntinas supervised Griffin in narcotics and had for a few years when in 2010, nine years into the war and four after he passed the bar, Griffin signed up.
“It’s truly a selfless act for someone to go serve their country at a time of war,” Buntinas said. “He joined the Army knowing he could be deployed and put into harm’s way.”
For Griffin, whose dad and granddads served, joining the reserves scratched as itch to serve. He got into the JAG corps — Judge Advocates General, military-speak for military lawyers.
On top of his hours at the Cook County Criminal Courthouse in Chicago, Griffin did one weekend a month and two weeks’ training a year in the Reserves. He made it known to his Army bosses he wanted to serve. Meanwhile he enjoyed the camaraderie of his office.
Just as his day job transferred him to a new division in January, Griffin’s marching orders arrived: Ship out to Afghanistan in March with the First Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division out of Fort Bragg, N.C. They had a spot for a second attorney. He had skills that would aide him among his new company.
“He’s a natural trial lawyer,” Buntinas said. “He’s comfortable in front of a jury or a judge, arguing. He’s good on his feet.”
Back in Chicago, Buntinas could outfit Griffin with small comforts and hand his office a way to do something for a popular colleague.
So Buntinas laid out boxes near his desk addressed to Afghanistan. Staffers filled them, mostly with junk food. Batteries and baby wipes proved popular. People threw in books and DVDs. Hot sauce and cigars.
Then somebody tossed in an old softball trophy, a nod to Griffin’s prowess on the office’s intramural team. A softball. A gag file with instructions to complete the work inside — pronto! — and return. And a throwback VHS tape.
Griffin took that joke and one-upped it, Buntinas said. He and his guys hunted at a local bazaar and found a VHS player that fired up the movie.
Like Radar from ‘MASH’
Virginia Griffin calls her third-born the last of her brood she expected to put on a uniform. Retired from special education, her husband of 37 years a retired sprinkler fitter, she figured he was too funny, too goofy, too lively to join the military. He was born on St. Patrick’s Day and figured as a boy that the parades and parties were for him.
But he knew he was lucky to have so much, so he joined the Reserves, his parents said, simply because he could.
“He just feels he has something to give his country,” said his father, Jim Griffin.
He tried to quash her going-away party, embarrassed about the attention.
“Dan, it’s for me,” his mother told him. “I want to celebrate.”
Her Danny wanted her only to mail him sheets, she said. The rest of the goodies that turn up from St. Linus, where he and his three siblings went to grade school, and on the family’s doorstep, get shipped in care packages and get handed out on the bases he works on.
“He’s like Radar from ‘MASH,’” his mother said. “He goes around and he has a great time giving out the stuff that people have sent him.”