September 15, 2003 Deborah Cupples Regular News UF law students called to fight in Iraq UF law students called to fight in Iraq Special to the NewsSome University of Florida Levin College of Law students not only came back to school this fall, they returned to the United States and life as civilians after service in the Iraq War.Law students Taylor Pancake, Matt Brannen, Juan “J.C.” Tabio, Edward Lohrer, and Ryon Little were called to duty during the spring 2003 semester.“We are grateful to these students for their service to our country, and relieved and pleased they have returned safely,” said UF Law Dean Robert Jerry.U.S. Marine Reservist Lance Cpl. Taylor Pancake was two days into his second semester of law school in January when he was called to active duty. Unsure if he would make it back for his wedding — scheduled for May 25 — he and his fiancé, Misty, quickly organized a ceremony January 13. Pancake left for the Middle East the next day, leaving behind his new bride.“Honestly,” Pancake said. “I think being deployed was harder on my friends and family than it was on me. I was focused and busy, while they were worrying.”Pancake and his bride renewed their vows August 31 for friends and family who could not attend the January ceremony on such short notice, and will take a long-delayed honeymoon in the near future.Pancake’s unit was headquartered in northern Kuwait, and went to Iraq in convoys for weeks at a time.“I got to watch pieces of history unfold,” Pancake said. “It was a very interesting experience.”After six months overseas, Pancake returned to the U.S. in early July. He spent two weeks waiting for de-activation papers to go through, then went on terminal leave until August 15.“I thought I would need a decompression period and had planned to return to school in the spring,” Pancake said. “It turned out those few weeks were enough, so I signed up for fall classes. The law school faculty and staff were awesome at making my transition seamless. It’s good to be back.”U.S. Marine Capt. Matt Brannen, a second year student, was called to action March 24 — just weeks before law school finals — leaving behind his wife, Heather, and daughter, Delaney, who turned 2 while Matt was away.“My daughter had trouble sleeping and understanding why I was gone,” Brannen said. “My wife handled it well, and a lot of people called to check on her. I appreciate the people at school and my church for keeping us in their thoughts and prayers.”Brannen headed a 14-member expeditionary team attached to a special operations command headquartered in Qatar.“It was surreal,” Brannen said. “Being issued ammo and getting motivated to undertake our mission. I am proud to have had the honor of leading my team. They were prepared for any mission and worked together to prepare for the possible combat we were facing.”Through a twist of fate, his team did not go to Iraq.“We were loading a C-130 [military transport plane] when we were stopped and told that the Iraqi army we were going to face had surrendered,” Brannen recounted. “The thing I prayed about most was bringing the team back home, and here we are.”In May, Brannen’s team arrived in Delaware on a military cargo plane.“The pilot announced our descent, and everyone cheered,” he said.He spent his summer taking military courses, including Expeditionary Warfare School in Quantico and Tactical Air Control Party School in California, before returning to Gainesville.“The best feeling in the world was being welcomed back by my daughter,” Brannen said. “And Student Affairs was awesome. They did everything to make sure I got back into school.”“My father was in the Navy during WWII, so I’m especially sensitive to our soldiers,” said Gail Sasnett, associate dean for students, professionalism, and community relations. “I’m very grateful for their willingness to serve our country. They make such sacrifices for all of us — delaying their education and ability to practice law, taking time away from their families — a very selfless thing.”For two families, the worries aren’t over. Brannen’s brother is in the Army and stationed in Baghdad, with an uncertain return date. And Cpl. Juan “J.C.” Tabio, a second-year student and member of Brannen’s reserve unit who was activated at the same time, has a younger brother who started boot camp the same week he was called to duty. The Tabios are a Marine family — his older brother also served in the ’80s.Tabio left behind fiancé Cindy Garcia, an elementary guidance counselor in Weston, when he left for the Middle East.“The Marine Corps does an impressive job of staying ready,” Tabio said. “Many Florida reservists were activated for this.”During deployment, Tabio had to quickly adapt to two cultures: Qatar and the Marine Corps.“It was interesting seeing how other people live,” he said. “As a reservist, I deal with the Corps once a month, but overseas I was a Marine 24-7.”Tabio was deployed with Brannen, and said, “At law school, we’re friends. But in the Marines, Capt. Brannen is my team leader, and we have to stay within the bounds of professionalism and Marine Corps etiquette.”Like Brannen, Tabio was impressed with the team’s sense of brotherhood.“An Army staff sergeant stationed near us wrote a letter to our whole unit, praising our cohesiveness and esprit de corps,” said Tabio, who returned to the law school this fall. “This was a once in a lifetime experience for most people. I’m glad that when the call came, I was there to respond.”Not all UF law students serving have returned. Florida National Guard Sgt. Edward Lohrer (2L) — who was deployed to Iraq — and U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Ryon Little (2L) — who was called to duty to monitor the Port of Miami — have been gone since last spring.Sadly, another friend of the college of law will never come home. Gainesville resident and Florida National Guardsman Jeffrey Wershow, 22, was shot and killed July 6 while providing security for U.S. officials visiting Baghdad University in Iraq. Wershow planned to one day attend law school at UF, as did his father, Jon Wershow, and stepmother, Pam Schneider, of the Gainesville firm Wershow & Schneider. In honor of this and in recognition of his service to the nation, the UF College of Law gave his family a certificate granting him “honorary admission.” According to military sources, he will be posthumously awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart. Deborah Cupples is a second-year law student at UF from Gainesville, and this story originally appeared in the August 25 edition of the University of Florida Fredric G. Levin College of Law newsletter FlaLaw.