As he watched the Twin Towers fall on Sept. 11, 2001, David Marold immediately knew the United States would respond. He knew that response would require the courage and commitment of thousands of young men and women. And he knew those soldiers would need leaders to keep them safe. “I thought that was something I could do,” Marold said.
He was just 15.
“I was a kid, but I was determined,” recalled Marold, who is today a third-year student in the School of Law at Washington University in St. Louis and a captain in the U.S. Army. “My leadership experience was pretty much limited to my time on the soccer field and basketball court, but I wanted to serve and to lead.”
So Marold attended the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, where he majored in economics; survived U.S. Army Ranger School, where he slept on dirt for three months; and led a platoon of 85 soldiers in Kandahar, Afghanistan, where he trained Afghan National Army and police to combat drug and weapons traffickers.
In the end, Marold feels fortunate to have achieved what he set out to do — bring home all the soldiers in his platoon. But he laments the lives lost, including classmates from West Point and soldiers who served in his unit.
“Whether it’s in politics or business, you don’t see a lot of people who are willing to sacrifice for a bigger mission,” Marold said. “They all joined with good intentions and it is a tragedy that their families and communities will not be able to benefit from their talents and selfless service in the future.”
Law school’s ‘go-to’ student
Marold will serve in the Army JAG Corps after graduating this spring.
Marold continues to lead and mentor members of the military. As co-founder and president of the Washington University Student Veterans Association, Marold successfully advocated for the expansion of the Yellow Ribbon program at the law school; has recruited talented, if occasionally nontraditional, candidates; and has connected student veterans to university resources and a robust alumni network.
“I call him my ‘go-to,’” said Kati Scannell, associate dean of admissions and placement at the School of Law. “He is willing to put himself out there for veterans, whether that is putting his personal email on a letter to 500 veterans or hosting a webinar or talking to me about a specific candidate. Everyday, he is finding ways to increase veteran applications and to improve their experience here.”
Marold’s efforts are paying off. Three percent of current law students are veterans, up from 1 percent when Marold started here.
First-year law student John Boyer is one of them. Boyer did not attend a traditional college; rather he earned his undergraduate degree online.
“Law school was a big leap,” said Boyer, who served in the Army for 11 years in Iraq, Afghanistan and bases across the United States. “I was very reluctant to leave my family to come here, but David has helped me in so many ways. He knows what resources are available, he knows the course work, he knows the people who can help you. He has almost singlehandedly created this welcoming environment, and he has been able to do it because he understands what veterans need.”
Marold said veterans have a lot to teach their classmates.
“Veterans have interacted with people of all backgrounds in all corners of the globe,” Marold said. “They also bring a maturity and a commitment to teamwork. People talk about the grind of the first two years of law school, and I think veterans bring a ‘we’re going to get through this together’ attitude that supports the entire class.”
Doing the right thing
Upon graduation, Marold will serve as an adviser in the Army’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps, the oldest legal organization in the United States. JAGs provide legal counsel on any number of issues from contract to criminal law.
“It’s like being general counsel for a very large corporation,” Marold said. “There are labor issues. There are environmental issues. There are international issues. There are budgetary issues. We move thousands of people and millions of dollars in equipment. How is the money appropriated properly? And if equipment is broken, who is responsible for that?
“And then there are criminal justice issues. If you have a soldier who breaks the law, we have to prosecute and defend that individual. We advise in all of these situations.”
Marold’s education at Washington University has prepared him to tackle this array of complex legal issues. But his experience on the battlefield has trained him for another key part of the job — teaching soldiers the rules of engagement.
“When you get attacked day after day, people can become very frustrated and the natural impulse is to shoot first and ask questions later,” Marold said. “But you can’t let that cloud your judgment in how you treat people. It’s the toughest thing we do in the military, but you always have to make sure you are doing to right thing.”
Marold knows firsthand the pressures soldiers face. He was deployed during the surge of 2011 in Kandahar.
“You would wake up to people lobbing grenades into your base or you would get shot at on your way to talk to a local leader,” Marold said. “You never knew where and when it would come.”
Marold recalled one incident that occurred at 4 a.m., just hours after his exhausted troops returned from a three-day mission. He received a call that a man was planting a roadside bomb like the ones that have wounded and killed so many soldiers.
“But we couldn’t tell,” Marold said. “It would be easy to say someone is digging on the road, and we need to stop him and the way to stop him is to shoot. But we couldn’t see a bomb; we couldn’t see any wires. I had to rely on my training to help me differentiate between a true threat and a perceived threat.”
Instead of firing, Marold’s soldiers came up behind the man and dragged him away from the site.
“Turns out he was high on opium and just digging in the ground and moving rocks,” Marold said. “I think it’s a great example of how you have to take a little bit of risk to make sure that you are doing the right thing by that person and by that place.”
Marold plans to tell that story to the soldiers he trains. The lesson is another way Marold can protect American soldiers.
“I want to everyone to come home safe and with a clean conscience,” Marold said.
by Diane Toroian Keaggy