Inside Seven
Current Issue: September 2014
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Feature
Colonel DeVorkin (Ret.) took a little piece of Caltrans with him to Iraq.

A Few Good Men and Women
by  Patrick Chandler
Issue Date: 11/2009

Caltrans employees explain the connection between civil servant and soldier.

When thinking of who works at Caltrans, engineers, environmental planners, biologists, right of way agents, delineators, heavy equipment operators, may come to mind – but soldier? Probably not, unless you happen to work with one of them.

Everyday they walk among us as soldiers and public servants. Originally, they joined the military to serve their country.

These employees have been able to travel the world in service to the military during times of peace and war, all the while working at Caltrans in their civilian lives.

Deputy Chief Counsel Linda Harrel, Assistant Chief Counsel Alex DeVorkin, and Staff Services Analyst Gregory Townsend are a few of the many soldiers working in District 7.

Harrel, who joined the California Army National Guard in 1978 shortly after graduating from Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, is a Judge Advocate General or “JAG” at the rank of colonel.

“JAGs help soldiers who are coming back from active military service. JAGs provide legal services, wills, consultation to soldiers who may have been evicted or whose homes may have been foreclosed while they were deployed; they help soldiers regain their jobs, or power of attorney,” said Harrel.

Harrel has had the fortunate opportunity to work with Partnership for Peace (PIP). “The partnership is comprised of former developing Soviet Block countries who want to join NATO. The Guard will hold peacekeeping games with California’s PIP sister country, Ukraine,” said Harrel. “The peacekeeping games can either be in the field or computerized but the Guard has the opportunity to advise Ukrainian soldiers in peacekeeping methods and use each others’ weapons.”

Proudly, Harrel admitted that she been a key in recruiting JAG officers into Caltrans, as she has been able to recruit over 50 JAG lawyers who now work in Districts 7 and 8. Currently, Harrel’s son is deployed with his Guard unit in Kosovo.

“JAGs deploy when the Guard deploys,” said Harrel. Harrel’s Guard duties have taken her to Ukraine twice and South Korea once.

Another Guard member, Retired Colonel Alex DeVorkin, has worked as a Caltrans lawyer for 29 years and has served as a JAG for the California National Guard for 27 years. Shortly after completing law school, DeVorkin joined Caltrans Legal Division and then in 1982 he joined the JAG Corps where he was commissioned as a first lieutenant.

During DeVorkin’s tenure with Caltrans, he has specialized in environmental law and real property law, including eminent domain. As a JAG, DeVorkin has represented and prosecuted soldiers, advised commanders on the law of war, international law and treaties, and advised commanders during the planning of maneuvers.

“They look to us [JAGs] for advice to ensure that an exercise goes properly and does not violate any laws or treaties,” said Devorkin. “More and more it is important to have a lawyer there.”

DeVorkin was able to expand his legal abilities working for the Guard and Caltrans. “I have had the chance to have a law practice totally different from what we do here at Caltrans. The two can intermix, trial skills and strategic thinking,” said DeVorkin. Working for the Guard has given DeVorkin the self-fulfillment to serve the country and make a difference.

From September 2005 to September 2006, DeVorkin was deployed to Iraq with the Military Police Brigade to help train the Iraqi Police to improve the services they provide to the citizenry.

While stationed at Camp Victory in Iraq, DeVorkin was still able to have access to some amenities to help him cope with being so far from home.

“I definitely missed not having a local Peet's or Starbucks coffee outlet. Having internet access really helped drive away the deployment blues, and I was able to regularly ‘phone home’ courtesy of the military. Those two things - internet and telephone - helped immensely,” said DeVorkin. “Otherwise, there was free parking, free gasoline, a fully equipped gym, the food was excellent (and plentiful), and I had cable TV in my room.”

“You could hear gunfire and explosions. Occasionally we would receive visits from mortar fire,” said DeVorkin of the activity beyond the fortified walls of Camp Victory. “We were restricted to the base unless it was necessary to go outside “the wire” to complete a mission.”

DeVorkin retired from the Guard in September and is scheduled to retire from Caltrans very soon. Both Harrel and DeVorkin have been members of the 40th Infantry Division.

Caltrans is not only home to a few soldiers (the actual title applied to those serving in the Army), but there is an Airman in our midst too.

Gregory Townsend, a staff services analyst for Maintenance Support, also serves as a videographer at the rank of Staff Sergeant, as part of the 4th Combat Camera Squadron for the United States Air Force Reserve (USAFR) at March Air Reserve Base in Riverside, California.

Townsend originally joined the Air Force out of a personal desire to serve his country and community.

“I’ve had the privilege of being a part of the greatest military organization on Earth for more than 15 years,” said Townsend. “I am now a veteran of two wars [Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom] from two different decades.”

As a videographer, Townsend has had the opportunity to photograph and video street-level combat in Iraq for Department of Defense's purposes and to inform the public.

Townsend’s military career has coincided with his past civilian jobs working as journalist for the San Bernardino Sun and as a travel writer.

Townsend has had the opportunity to live and serve in England, Germany, Turkey, and several locations in California as an Airman.

“Pride addresses the personal and professional satisfaction I acknowledge, knowing that my job with Caltrans contributes to the safety and security of the millions of our citizens who utilize the state’s transportation system each day,” said Townsend, speaking about the link between his two careers. “As an employee of one of the most respected roadway maintenance divisions in the world, I take pride in the work we do for the motoring public, the responsibility it merits, and in being a part of the Caltrans family.”

DeVorkin inside of Al Faw Palace located on Camp Victory, used by MNC-I (Multi-National Corps, Iraq) as its headquarters.  It was built by Saddam Hussein. DeVorkin outside of the Al Faw palace. Men observing the First Night of Hanukkah. Colonel DeVorkin posing with his base vehicle.