Eric Pedersen, 2000 Gonzaga Law graduate, has taken his legal education around the world and back. Earlier this year, Mr. Pedersen presented Gonzaga Law with a flag that had been flown over his base in Afghanistan. He graciously took a few minutes to tell us more about his experiences.
Tell us about yourself and your work as legal counsel for Seal Team TEN.
During my third year at Gonzaga, I was accepted into the Navy Judge Advocate General’s (JAG) Corps, where I was on active duty from 2001 to 2009. In this capacity, I served twice as a prosecutor, a Special Assistant United States Attorney, a Staff Judge Advocate for the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and a Legal Advisor to the Department of Defense Criminal Investigation Task Force. In 2007, I received my LL.M. from Georgetown University with a focus in National Security Law. In 2009, I left active duty and went to work at my current job as a Trial Attorney for the Department of Homeland Security in Seattle, but I continue to serve as a Judge Advocate in the Naval Reserves.
In April 2013 I returned to active duty to serve as the sole Staff Judge Advocate for the Special Operations Task Force, which was led by SEAL Team TEN, in Afghanistan, from May to December 2013. I handled a multitude of legal issue, including international law, investigations, military justice, and general legal assistance. I provided training and legal advice to Navy SEALs and senior leadership of the Task Force on the Rules of Engagement, Law of Armed Conflict, and detainee and evidence handling. I also met with local Afghan prosecutors to discuss, strategize, and assist in the prosecution of their cases against insurgents detained during operations.
What do you most enjoy about being a part of SEAL Team TEN?
I loved the sense of teamwork that came along with being part of SEAL Team TEN. On the first day of my deployment, the Operations Officer said to me “we are all in this together,” and, looking back, I realize that we were truly a team with everything we did. The Team went out of their way to make sure everyone succeeded in the execution of the mission. I also enjoyed getting to know the Team members, observing what goes into their decision-making process, understanding their methods, learning their backgrounds and listening to their stories. They execute their duties with razor-sharp precision and attention to detail, and their dedication to the national security of the United States is awe inspiring.
What were the most challenging aspects of your deployment?
Being almost 7,000 miles away from my family and friends was especially difficult. I had to learn a new job and new areas of the law, in a dangerous setting very quickly. Working with local Afghan prosecutors, while motivating and interesting, could also be frustrating and infuriating as well. Afghanistan, as a whole, was a rather challenging environment to say the very least.
Why did you choose to attend Gonzaga law school?
I visited the University and met some outstanding faculty and staff. I also enjoyed the atmosphere of the Gonzaga campus as well. A reassuring, random phone call from a GU law student, on an evening where I was feeling a great deal of anxiety over my upcoming wedding and decision about law school, pretty much sealed the deal.
How has your Gonzaga education influenced your career?
“Be Inspired.” I love reading those words when I walk the campus of Gonzaga. I would not be where I am today if not for truly inspirational people at Gonzaga like Gerry Hess, Mary Pat Treuthart or the great Lou Orland, among others. Gonzaga also gave me the tools I needed to succeed in law, the connections I utilized throughout my career, and opened up opportunities to pursue my career endeavors.
What else are you passionate about?
I love spending time with my wife and kids, and am so happy to be back with them. I also love teaching and physical fitness. I occasionally teach college courses in the evening and am looking forward to doing so again. I have also been an avid CrossFitter for over four years and had just started assistant coaching at my CrossFit box prior to deploying to Afghanistan. Whether in the classroom or at the box, I love helping people reach their ultimate potential, whether that is finding the path to achieve their career endeavors or getting their first strict pull-up.
Tell us about the gift you presented to the law school
Within our base in Afghanistan, the United States flag flew prominently over a memorial dedicated to members of the U.S. Special Forces community who lost their lives in Afghanistan – inspirational people who epitomize the core values of honor, courage and commitment. Heroes noted on this memorial include Lieutenant Commander Erik Kristensen, Lieutenant Michael “Murph” Murphy, Petty Officer’s Danny Dietz and Matthew Axelson, and many other fallen heroes of the U.S. Special Forces Community. On September 11, 2013, I requested permission to fly the United States flag over the memorial to honor both these men and a place I knew that also embodies these core values. The flag was raised and valiantly flown over the memorial, the base, and Afghanistan by members of the SEAL Team TEN on the 12 year anniversary of 9/11. The Team’s Commanding Officer (who later informed me that his very good friend had recently graduated from GU Law) and Command Master Chief prepared a certificate dedicating the flag to Gonzaga University School of Law.
What advice would you give those who are interested in the JAG Corps?
Be informed! Understand what you are getting in to and have a sincere interest. Be flexible, especially about duties and locations. You will not have a career in litigation in D.C. your entire life in the JAG Corps. While there is plenty of opportunity to work in your current field of interest, there are also many fascinating areas of the law that the JAG Corps has to offer in great locations. Be unique! The competition to get into the JAG Corps is fierce, so make yourself stand out in a good way. Stay fit. Take on leadership roles.