UF Law Students Return From Service in Iraq War
Some Levin College of Law students not only came back to school this fall, they returned to the United States and life as civilians after service in the Iraq war. Taylor Pancake (1L, pictured at right), Matt Brannen (2L), Juan “J.C.” Tabio (2L), Edward Lohrer (2L) and Ryon Little were called to duty Spring 2003 Semester. “We are grateful to these students for their service to our country, and relieved and pleased they have returned safely,” said Dean Robert Jerry. U.S. Marine Reservist Lance Corporal Taylor Pancake (1L) was two days into his second semester of law school in January when he was called to active duty. Unsure if he would make it back for his wedding — scheduled for May 25 — he and his fiance, Misty, quickly organized a ceremony Jan. 13. Taylor left for the Middle East the next day, leaving behind his new bride. “Honestly,” said Taylor. “I think being deployed was harder on my friends and family than it was on me. I was focused and busy, while they were worrying.” Taylor and Misty plan to renew their vows Aug. 31 for friends and family who could not attend the January ceremony on such short notice, and will take a long-delayed honeymoon in the near future. Taylor’s unit was headquartered in northern Kuwait, and went to Iraq in convoys for weeks at a time. “I got to watch pieces of history unfold,” said Taylor. “It was a very interesting experience.” After six months overseas, Taylor returned to the U.S. in early July. He spent two weeks waiting for de-activation papers to go through, then went on terminal leave until Aug. 15. “I thought I would need a decompression period and had planned to return to school in the spring,” said Taylor. “It turned out those fewweeks were enough, so I signed up for fall classes. The law school faculty and staff were awesome at making my transition seamless. It’s good to be back.” U.S. Marine Captain Matt Brannen (2L) was called to action March 24 — just weeks before law school finals — leaving behind his wife, Heather, and daughter, Delaney, who turned two while Matt was away. “My daughter had trouble sleeping and understanding why I was gone,” Matt said. “My wife handled it well, and a lot of people called to check on her. I appreciate the people at school and my church for keeping us in their thoughts and prayers.” Brannen headed a 14-member expeditionary team attached to a special operations command headquartered in Qatar. “It was surreal,” said Brannen. “Being issued ammo and getting motivated to undertake our mission. I am proud to have had the honor of leading my team. They were prepared for any mission and worked together to prepare for the possible combat we were facing.” Through a twist of fate, his team did not go to Iraq. “We were loading a C-130 (military transport plane) when we were stopped and told that the Iraqi army we were going to face had surrendered,” Brannen recounted. “The thing I prayed about most was bringing the team back home, and here we are.” In May, Brannen’s team arrived in Delaware on a military cargo plane. “The pilot announced our descent, and everyone cheered,” said Matt. He spent his summer taking military courses, including Expeditionary Warfare School in Quantico and Tactical Air Control Party School in California, before returning to Gainesville. “The best feeling in the world was being welcomed back by my daughter,” Matt said. “And Student Affairs was awesome. They did everything to make sure I got back into school.” Associate Dean for Students, Professionalism and Community Relations Gail Sasnett said, “My father was in the Navy during WWII, so I’m especially sensitive to our soldiers. I’m very grateful for their willingness to serve our country. They make such sacrifices for all of us — delaying their education and ability to practice law, taking time away from their families — a very selfless thing.” For two families, the worries aren’t over. Brannen’s brother is in the Army and stationed in Baghdad, with an uncertain return date. And Corporal Juan “J.C.” Tabio (2L), a member of Brannen’s reserve unit who was activated at the same time, has a younger brother who started boot camp the same week J.C. was called to action. The Tabios are a Marine family: his older brother also served in the 80s. (Return From Service, continued) Tabio left behind fiancé Cindy Garcia, an elementary guidance counselor in Weston, Florida, when he left for the Middle East. “The Marine Corp does an impressive job of staying ready,” J.C. said. “Many Florida reservists were activated for this.” During deployment, Tabio had to quickly adapt to two cultures: Qatar and the Marine Corp. “It was interesting seeing how other people live,” he said. “As a reservist, I deal with the Corp once a month, but overseas I was a Marine 24-7.” Tabio was overseas with Brannen, and commented, “At law school, we’re friends. But in the Marines, Captain Brannen is my team leader, and we have to stay within the bounds of professionalism and Marine Corp etiquette.” Like Brannen, Tabio was impressed with the team’s sense of brotherhood. “An Army Staff Sergeant stationed near us wrote a letter to our whole unit, praising our cohesiveness and esprit de corps.” “This was a once in a lifetime experience for most people,” said Tabio, who returned to the law school this fall. “I’m glad that when the call came, I was there to respond.” Not all UF law students serving in the effort have returned. Florida National Guard Sergeant Edward Lohrer (2L) — who was deployed to Iraq — and U.S. Coast Guard Lieutenant Ryon Little (2L) — who was called to duty to monitor the Port of Miami — have been gone since last spring. Neither Lohrer or Little were available for comment, and sources are unsure of their date of return. According to members of the Military Law Students Association (MLSA), Lohrer is part of the 560th Movement Control Team, which is tracking the movement of military vehicles moving through Iraq and Kuwait. Sadly, another friend of the College of Law will never come home. Gainesville resident and Florida National Guardsman Jeffrey Wershow, 22, was shot and killed July 6 while providing security for U.S. officials visiting Baghdad University in Iraq. Wershow planned to one day attend law school here, as did his father, Jon Wershow, and stepmother, Pam Schneider, of the Gainesville firm Wershow & Schneider. In honor of this and in recognition of his service to the nation, the UF College of Law gave his family a certificate granting him “honorary admission.” According to military sources, he will be posthumously awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.