Veteran Alumni


MILITARY SERVICE: A strong career path for Albany Law alumni

By Paul Grondahl

It may not be the most obvious career path for law school graduates, but at least two dozen Albany Law School alumni have established legal careers in the United States military.  Several are lawyers with the Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps and their cases focus on military justice and military law. Others work in the Office of the General Counsel of the Navy or Army, which is similar to a large corporate law firm. Some are assigned to Army headquarters in the Pentagon and one has served as a military judge, presiding over the high-profile case of Army Pvt. Bradley Manning. Manning was convicted of leaking classified documents to WikiLeaks in the largest public breach of secret data in U.S. history.

They are civilians, active-duty military, reservists and former military personnel and they described their legal careers as professionally rewarding and personally gratifying. They find the work challenging and varied. It can include international travel and exposure to a variety of countries and cultures. It offers stable employment with broad opportunities for advancement. These lawyers in military service also expressed a strong sense of mission and deep commitment to their country as they undertake legal work that protects national security and serves to bolster America’s democratic ideals at home and abroad.

Their paths to military service vary widely, although common themes emerge. All recommended that law students consider it as a career. Here are brief profiles of five alumni.

Colonel Denise R. Lind ’85

Colonel Denise R. Lind ’85 is a Senior Judge on the U.S. Army Court of Appeals based at Fort Belvoir, Va. Her three-judge panel hears up to 225 appeals each year on major criminal court-martial cases. Last year, while serving as a military judge at the trial level, she presided over the Manning WikiLeaks espionage case. The range of cases in military courts-martial is similar to a civilian criminal court, including drug possession, larceny, assault and murder. However, the range of cases in military courts also includes military specific offenses such as absence without leave (AWOL) and disobedience of orders. Lind cannot discuss any of her cases, but described her philosophy as a judge this way: “As a trial judge, I try to be fair and consistent and respectful of everyone involved in the process. I know that everybody who comes into the courtroom I preside over is not going to leave a happy person. My goal is that everyone leaves that courtroom believing justice was done.”

Her international experience includes two tours of duty in Germany, a deployment with VII Corps to Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Storm in 1990 and 1991, and service as a military judge in Europe, Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan from 2004-2006. Courtroom conditions were not always ideal. The courtroom was a tent in Saudi Arabia, despite sandstorms that blew through the flaps. In Iraq, one of the places she held trials was in a room of one of Saddam Hussein’s former palaces. “The logistics were challenging, but the criminal trials were very interesting,” she said.

 Her role as a trial and appellate judge is the culmination of a road that began at Siena College in Loudonville, N.Y., where she earned an Army Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) scholarship, and majored in political science. “I started this path early on, but I didn’t know anything about the military when I joined, except that I wanted to see the world,” she said. “And then I didn’t know if I was going to stay longer than my four-year ROTC service obligation. I decided to see if I liked it and 28 years later, here I am still.”

At Albany Law, she earned valuable experience through internships at the N.Y. State Commission of Corrections and in the state Legislature. She also clerked with law firms in Albany and Troy. “Being in the state capital and participating in the legislative process is one of the strengths of Albany Law,” she said. “It deepened my interest in politics and government.”

Lind met her husband, COL. (retired) Scott Lind ’85, through the ROTC program while both were students at Albany Law. They were both ROTC scholarship recipients in college, entered active duty together and were married in 1987. The couple managed to coordinate their Army assignments for the most part. Scott Lind retired from the Active Duty Army in the rank of Colonel after serving as a Judge Advocate for 24 years. In retirement, he continues to serve as a senior civilian attorney for the Army practicing government procurement law, which was his specialty while on active duty. The couple has two children, one in high school and the other in college. In Lind’s free time, she is a runner, golfer and skier. “My advice to Albany Law students is to seize the opportunities you have,” she said. “I didn’t plan for a career in the military, but it has turned out to be a very rewarding one.”


Lt. Commander Ryan Santicola

Lt. Commander Ryan Santicola ’05 has lived and worked in five countries during his eight years as a Navy JAG Corps attorney, including in Iraq, Greece, Cuba and his current assignment in Japan. During that time he has served as a legal adviser to Navy commanders as well as an appellate defense counsel. “The Navy JAG Corps is like a very large law firm, with about 700 lawyers,” he said. “The work is similar to being a legal counsel for a corporation. It exposes me to a wide range of cases and situations. It makes JAG officers well-rounded lawyers. It’s hard to imagine a more interesting and dynamic organization in which to work.”

He has an identical twin brother, Lt. Commander Ian Santicola ’05, a classmate at Albany Law who also joined the Navy as a JAG officer. Ian is stationed in Washington, D.C. “I like to think I had the idea first because of my early JAG internship in Germany,” Ryan said, “but my brother is the better officer and lawyer. We stay close. We talk at least once a week by video chat or e-mail and visit each other when we can. It can be a blessing and a curse having two people who look so similar. We were both stationed at the same location in Washington for awhile and it was strange to be mistaken for one another.”

Ryan’s current assignment to the commander of the patrol and reconnaissance task force of the Navy’s 7th Fleet at a base in Atsugi, Japan, means he advises on legal issues that might arise with Navy aircraft patrolling the vast western half of the Pacific Ocean. “I advise on the law of the sea as it applies to international air navigation and rules of engagement, as well as military justice cases, government ethics and rules that govern what commanders can and cannot do with outside entities.”

During the Iraq War, he was assigned to an office with about 15 other lawyers that advised on the legal and policy issues relating to about 25,000 Iraqi detainees. He advised commanders on detainees who should be considered for release because there was insufficient evidence to hold them. He was in Iraq leading up to and during the volatile troop surge and worked for the commander responsible for transferring deposed President Saddam Hussein to the Iraqis prior to his 2006 execution by hanging after he was convicted of crimes against humanity. He also worked closely with a program that released detained juveniles to their families after an investigation revealed there was not enough evidence to continue to hold them. “I went to the gate of the detention center with these kids and there were a lot of tears when they were reunited with their parents,” he said. He also helped set up a review process to consider releasing individual detainees.  “We released them after they took a pledge not to engage in any insurgent activity. The Iraqis are a people of their word and they seemed to take that very seriously. Seeing that process up-close was fascinating.”

While he was stationed at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, Santicola advised the Navy base’s commanding officer on a range of issues regarding a Navy installation in a foreign country. The issues ranged from disciplining sailors to determining how the base could be used consistent with international agreements and which groups could operate there. He also was involved with the inter-agency program that temporarily houses Cuban migrants on the Navy base prior to resettlement in other countries. Some of these Cuban migrants swam to the base and others were intercepted at sea by the U.S. Coast Guard. “It doesn’t get as much attention as the detainees, but it was a fascinating program,” said Santicola, who collaborated on migrant issues with staff from Homeland Security and the State Department.

He learned the importance of preparation from his professors at Albany Law, particularly Patrick Connors and Timothy Lytton. “I was always amazed at how well-prepared they were for their classes and they offered extraordinary road maps that were very helpful,” he said. “Their courses were a great foundation for my work as a lawyer and JAG officer.”


cola and his wife, who is a consultant for community development financial institutions, have a 3 ½ year-old daughter and they’ve embraced moving to a new assignment every couple of years. “Personally, we’ve had amazing experiences and, professionally, the sense of mission and the people I work with would be hard to replicate in another job,” he said.  


Andrew Saunders ’91

Andrew Saunders ’91 was an active-duty naval officer for four years and he served on a Navy destroyer before deciding to enroll at Albany Law School. His father was an attorney who worked in commercial law at a New York City advertising firm. “Becoming a lawyer was definitely on my radar screen during my time in the Navy,” he said. Saunders is a civilian who works in the Navy’s Office of the General Counsel in Washington, D.C. He leads a team of 13 lawyers as head of the systems section in the Naval Sea Systems Command, which has about 50,000 Navy employees and a $30 billion annual budget to develop and build the Navy’s ships, missiles, guns, radar systems and other equipment for its global fleet. 

“We really operate like a big corporate law firm,” he said. There are about 500 lawyers, mostly civilians, who work in the Navy’s Office of the General Counsel and they are stationed around the country and overseas. “I love the client. I have a Navy background and know that it’s a great organization. We’re also doing work that involves a greater good. We’re not driven by a profit motive and our goal is the mission and getting the proper product to the fleet.”

Saunders speaks as a lawyer who worked for four years at a government contracts law firm in Washington before going to work for the Navy. He finds his work for the military rewarding on many levels. “I like the variety. We do business law, acquisition law, intellectual property, ethics and other practice areas,” he said. “Our younger lawyers get to handle the types of big, complex cases that only a partner would get to do in a private law firm. We don’t get paid the same scale as the private Bar, but our relationship with a great client, the quality of our work and the mission keeps us going.”

In addition to reviewing complex contracts for weapons systems, Saunders and his legal staff defend the federal government in lawsuits over the award of military contracts. These cases are fast-paced and typically are decided in fewer than 100 days.  He recently worked on a lawsuit (bid protest) filed by Lockheed Martin Corp. against Raytheon Corp. after Lockheed lost to Raytheon in bidding on the  $1.6 billion next-generation Navy Air and Missile Defense Radar (AMDR). The protest was filed in October 2013 before the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and after a number of classified filings by Lockheed and the Navy, Lockheed recognized the fundamental weakness of its case – Lockheed withdrew its protest in January 2014, one day before a scheduled hearing at the GAO.  “We were going up against one of the top Washington law firms and it was high-intensity litigation,” Saunders said. “We do all our own litigation and we’re confident of our abilities. We have no problem going toe to toe with the big ‘K street’ law firms.”

Since Saunders spent years at sea as a Navy officer, he sends his younger lawyers on tours of production facilities, to shipyards to see warships being built and to observe field tests of missiles. “I don’t get out as much as I used to,” said Saunders. He and his wife, Mimi, have three teenage boys. “It’s exciting for the younger lawyers to make the trips. I’ve already traveled the world on a Navy destroyer.”