Flora D. Darpino grew up in the sort of Italian-American family that gathers around the dinner table for two essential purposes: to eat and to talk politics. So, it’s hardly an exaggeration to say that she cut her eyeteeth on argument and no surprise that she decided to go into law. What surprised even Darpino CLAW’86, however, is the kind of law she ended up practicing.
Commander of the U.S. Army Legal Services Agency and chief judge of the U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals, she saw combat during the first phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom and was the senior military attorney overseeing efforts to rebuild Iraq and reestablish the rule of law. During her second tour of duty, in 2010–2011, she served as command representative on legal matters involving the U.S. embassy, coalition partners, and the Iraqi government, and she was promoted to brigadier general.
When she and her husband, also an attorney, were starting out, “I saw my future as more suburban,” she says, by which she means home, kids, and a career in corporate litigation. (She is indeed the mother of two daughters.) But her husband’s ROTC scholarship required him to give the Army four years after graduation, and her moot court professor at Rutgers School of Law–Camden suggested she join the Army’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps. “I talked to a few folks and found out that you get an incredible amount of experience right out of law school, particularly in litigation,” she says. “I thought, Why not?”