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Alumnus promoted to JAG colonel

by Sarah Bello,

Portrait of COL Matthew Fitzgerald JD '02 A non-traditional student at 31, COL Matthew Fitzgerald JD'02 already had two careers, spending 13 years enlisted in the army and four teaching high schoolers.

He became interested in law while studying for a master's degree. A customer at his part-time job mentioned Willamette, and he decided to learn more. With its small classes, welcoming environment, setting, and access to private and public service opportunities, it was everything he was looking for in a law school

When 9/11 happened, Fitzgerald thought he would be called back to the military, though he was not subject to recall. He sought re-entry into the service, instead, signing up for an initial three years in the Army Judge Advocate General's (JAG) Corps. Two decades later, he received a competitive promotion to colonel in April 2022.

"I was a little surprised, but pleased with the opportunity to delay my retirement a few more years," he says. "A promotion to colonel makes you one of the senior partners of our organization, so you work to steward the profession, mentor, train and advise our junior Judge Advocates."

Fitzgerald's role includes planning and shaping the JAG Corps, supervising legal operations of 25 to 50 lawyers, and advising senior leaders. He currently presides over military courts-martial for multiple installations in the Northwest.

"Just about everybody I came into contact with [at Willamette] shaped me and made me a better lawyer," he says. "They cared about the language of law and analysis, developing the most sound legal answer and becoming a principled legal counsel."

"Regardless of what you practice, you had better have sound legal and ethical footing, and I got that at Willamette."

Over the years, he's worked on missions from border security to pandemic response to national security and overseas combat operations. It's rewarding and fascinating, Fitzgerald says.

He's pleased to have seen a culture of change in the Army since the '80s, with the normalization of combat-experienced female leadership and increased focus on diversity, equity and inclusion. There's nothing like a career in the military, he says.

"That innate camaraderie and history of brothers and sisters in arms - I knew I missed that at law firms," he says. "It's hard to detach yourself from the military's espirit de corps. There's a common spirit of honoring and preserving its legacy and continuing it forward."

About Willamette University College of Law

Willamette University College of Law was the first law school to open in the Pacific Northwest. Building on deep historic roots, we focus with pride on educating the next generation of problem-solving lawyers and leaders. Our location in Salem, Oregon, directly across the street from the Oregon State Capitol and Supreme Court, cannot be matched in the region. Our thought-leading scholars advance and promote our shared responsibility to make a difference in society, placing justice, fairness, and equality at the heart of everything we do.

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