Most people want to avoid courtrooms, thinking of them in a negative light. But for one Army Reserve Soldier, the courtroom is a second home and the place where he serves his country.
For 25 years, Lt. Col. Robert J. Gleason, a Charlotte, N.C. resident, has served the American people in a dual capacity. As a civilian, Gleason acts as the Assistant U.S. Attorney in Charlotte, N.C. As an Army Reserve Soldier, he works as the Judge Advocate General for the 98th Training Division (Initial Entry Training), which is an Army Reserve unit headquartered at Fort Benning, Georgia.
However, now his role as a Soldier is about to change since he was recently selected to serve as a military judge by the Judge Advocate General of the U.S. Army. In this new role, Gleason will perform his military duty on trials as part of the 150th Legal Operations Detachment, which is headquartered in Alexandria, Virginia. This new elite assignment is the capstone of his career, said Gleason. “I am very honored to have been selected. For me, it’s a dream job. I am very excited about the opportunity.”
Looking back, Gleason said being a servicemember was always something he wanted to do. “I always wanted to serve in the military. I always wanted to serve my country.”
Of course, while completing the rigors of law school, Gleason had limited time to do so. So he stayed his course to earn his degree. As he neared graduation though, Gleason applied to both the active Army and Navy JAG Corps, and got accepted. However, at the same time, he was also offered a position with a large law firm.
Considering his outstanding college loans, Gleason choose a suit and tie over his desire for a uniform, but that didn’t diminish his wish to serve. “I made the decision to work for the big firm, but it was during Desert Storm that I really felt the call again. That’s when I put in the application [to the U.S. Army Reserve JAG Corps].”
Now, over two decades later, Gleason says his military roles in the U.S. Army Reserve JAG Corps have benefited his civilian legal roles as well. “Having served in the Army Reserve as a judge advocate made me a better lawyer and enriched my career.”
The varying roles gave Gleason a variety of experiences. From running legal offices to helping Soldiers and families to advising division generals, Gleason learned sides of law that he may not have known had he just remained in the civilian legal field alone. “It gave me a broad breadth of experience and exposed me to a lot of people I may not normally have encountered as a criminal defense lawyer.”
Of course, the interface between his civilian and military legal roles worked both ways, making him a better military legal professional as well. “I know my way around a courtroom,” said Gleason who served for 10 years as a state prosecutor, 15 years as a federal prosecutor, and over 3 years in private practice.
With over 130 jury trials under his belt as a state and federal prosecutor and a number of years as a military defense counselor, Gleason has seen and experienced several angles of the law, which he says, prepared him well for his new role as a military judge. “I think [these different roles] have made me a better lawyer because I’ve been on both sides of the aisle.”
Knowing both sides of the aisle will help Gleason with his new role indeed. However, he knows that being a judge requires another level of experience and education. “I still have a lot to learn, no doubt.”
To learn the role and intricacies of his new military judge position, Gleason recently attended The Judge Advocate General's Legal Center and School in Charlottesville, Virginia. Before heading out to his three-week course, the well-experience legal professional knew he was in for some hard work. “I expect it to be a real challenge.”
Challenges are nothing new for Gleason though. As a Citizen-Soldier, Gleason has been maintaining the balance between his responsibilities as a Soldier, civilian lawyer, father, and husband. “It’s a challenge, a definite challenge.”
On the plus side though, many of Gleason’s family members have similar interests, which certainly helps with their understanding and support. With his father, nephew, wife, father-in-law, sister-in-law and brother-in-law all serving as lawyers themselves, they form, not only a large support system for Gleason, but an educated circle for him to give and receive specific guidance. “This is just a whole, big legal family,” said Gleason.
Having that pool of perspectives and wisdom to pull from can only help Gleason in his new role as a military judge, which will require him to remain impartial in all matters. People can have, and tend to have, all kinds of opinion on different topics, and that is ok, said Gleason. But as he moves into his new role, he knows he has to remain neutral. “As a judge, you need to remain objective and you cannot come in with any sort of bias one way or another in a case. You have to consider all the evidence, consider all the arguments of counsel, read all the briefs, and be able to objectively consider all the evidence and legal arguments that have been made.”
The complexities of his new role will certainly not be easy, but Gleason looks forward to moving from the counselor role to serving as a judge. “It’s a different perspective from being an advocate. Now, I am responsible for the conduct of a trial.”
While maintaining justice and ensuring a fair trial is conducted, Gleason says he can also have empathy for the advocates since he himself has been in those roles. This compassion for others is something that grew mainly from his role as an Army Reserve Soldier, said Gleason. “I love the esprit de corps, the ethos of the Army. And, I love the fact that the Army takes care of its people.”
For years in his different roles as a Soldier, Gleason repeatedly saw military leaders go out of their way to help and consider Soldiers’ needs and skills. “There’s a real concern for people…You can’t say that in the civilian sector necessarily.”
This bond between servicemembers brings people together as they work for something greater, something outside themselves, said Gleason. It’s that camaraderie and purpose that has made the Citizen-Soldier continue to serve for 25 years and what makes him want to assume yet another, more challenging way to serve. “To me, just wearing this uniform gives me a great deal of pride because I get to represent the United States of America every day.”
So as he steps up to his new role as an Army Reserve military judge, he knows he is in the right place, a place where he can ensure justice and do it as a representative of the U.S. Army Reserve. “What can be better than representing the United States of America, and have the opportunity to do that every day, and have the opportunity to do the right thing. Not every job you can say that, but in this job, you do.”