Last year, E. Barney Robinson III was all set to spend his hard-earned three-month sabbatical from Ridgeland law firm Butler Snow with his family in Scotland.
They would rent a house, enroll their children in a Scottish school and Robinson and his wife would rejuvenate and recharge while soaking in another culture.
But after careful consideration, Robinson came up with another idea for his paid leave.
A lieutenant colonel in the Mississippi National Guard, he volunteered for a tour of duty in Iraq to support Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“The cost to move my family to Scotland for three months was a bit expensive, so I decided to volunteer to go to Iraq,” he said. “We’ve had (Butler Snow) partners enroll in graduate school, go fishing for three months or even attend seminary for their sabbaticals. So, I guess it’s a little unusual in that respect.”
A commercial litigator for Butler Snow, Robinson has served in the Mississippi National Guard for nearly 23 years. He currently is deputy joint staff judge advocate (JAG) for the MNG’s Joint Force Headquarters in Jackson.
A graduate of the University of Mississippi law school, Robinson is responsible for advising the adjutant general and his staff on military legal issues, as well as representing the Guard and Mississippi Military Department in certain litigated matters.
To facilitate his tour, Robinson transferred and became command JAG for the 155th Brigade Combat Team (Heavy) operating at bases in Marez (Mosul) and Qayyarah West in northern Iraq.
The 155th is the largest operational combat unit in the MNG.
Robinson’s mission was to provide legal assistance to soldiers and offer advice on operational law, as well as involvement in the military justice system for matters such as court martial procedures.
The environment in Iraq, to the say the least, was somewhat less hospitable than what the Jackson native might have found on his proposed sabbatical to Scotland.
“Mosul is a really volatile place — when I was there, it was considered the second-most dangerous place in Iraq,” Robinson said. “It’s also been reported to be a major supply chain location (for terrorists).”
To get from base to base, Robinson would often travel in an MRAP, the military’s acronym for a mine resistant ambush-protected vehicle.
Each base was equipped with a blast bunker.
“In case we needed to quickly take cover from incoming mortar and rocket fire,” he said.
Robinson’s tour of duty in Iraq was cut short by a non-combat-related injury suffered during a fall last November.
“I knew it was bad when I saw my foot was at seven ‘o clock and not twelve o’clock,” he said, describing the severity of his injury.
He sustained three major fractures to his left leg and ankle and was sent back to the U.S. to recover.
Robinson has no regrets picking Iraq over Scotland for his sabbatical break.
“If I had it to do over, I would choose the same thing,” Robinson said.
Laughing, he added: “The only break I got was the one to my ankle.”
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