Military lawyer retires with distinction

By Sean Patrick Murphy

Mount Laurel lawyer Lee Gronikowski thinks service to country should be mandatory.

“I think every American should serve two years in the military or in something like the Peace Corps,” Gronikowski said. “I think it would spur volunteerism and make people more aware of how precious this great nation is and what it takes to defend it.”

He indicated that, during World War II the United States had a population of 130 million with 16 million men and women in uniform.

“So, you knew someone, were related to someone, or were married to someone in the service,” Gronikowski said. “You don’t see uniforms on the street anymore as you did back then, and many, many people have no idea what it is like in wartime.

“I think the current war has gone off of too many folks’ radar,” he added. “I also think the draft would stop us from getting into ill-advised wars and conflicts. Draftees are not like an all-volunteer force.”

Gronikowski retired from the military in June after 24 years of service with the rank of lieutenant colonel.

He was commissioned on May 1, 1987 in the U.S. Army Reserve and the N.J. Army National Guard as a first lieutenant. He transferred to the Air Force Reserve on July 12, 1994, after his N.J. National Guard unit was disbanded following the first Gulf War.

Gronikowski said he has always served as a judge advocate general (JAG).

He has been deputy ethics counsel for the New Jersey Supreme Court in Trenton since 1993, where he investigates and prosecutes attorneys who violate the ethics of the legal profession. Gronikowski said he has appeared before the Supreme Court of New Jersey “probably 50 times.”

He described the difficulty of having a civilian career while still being in the armed forces.

“It was a challenge because my duty, especially with the Air Force Reserve, was performed with the active duty Air Force.” Gronikowski said. “I was called a mobilization augmentee, which meant that I augmented the active duty force.

“I would often spend 30 or so work days a year away from my civilian job to perform duty, and the supreme court had to let me go,” he added. “It was really like having two jobs at once. I had to get very good at time management.”

Gronikowski declined to comment about what it was like during the first Gulf War.

He said he remembers vividly when he was tasked to get soldiers and their families ready for deployment in a legal sense.

“I remember preparing a will for a soldier while his wife and his very young children watched,” Gronikowski said. “That was a very sobering experience.”

He lost his best friend, First Sgt. Chris Coffin, U.S. Army, on July 3, 2003, during the invasion of Iraq.

“We had been friends for 25 years. Met in college,” Gronikowski said. “It broke my heart because he had put in his retirement papers and they would not let him retire because of the war.

“Take it from me, a soldier is the last person who wants to go to war,” he said.