Preserving peace and ensuring justice are two different lanes on the same road the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Transatlantic Middle East District’s (TAM) Ken Kajihiro has traveled over the past 14 years. A fifth-generation Asian American, Ken started down the first lane when he enlisted into the United States Marine Corps as an infantry rifleman in 2009 after high school. Over 14 years later, he’s now a lawyer practicing government contract law in the USCENTCOM area of responsibility and administrative law for the U.S. Army.
Kajihiro said that although he’d always dreamed of becoming a lawyer, he didn’t think he could actually do it and credits his time in the Marine Corps to giving him the motivation to make it happen. During that time, he saw both the best and worst of humanity through the lens of a humanitarian aid deployment to support earthquake and tsunami relief efforts in Japan in 2011 and intense fighting in Afghanistan in 2012.
“I had always wanted to go to law school, but I thought I was too dumb to go. I graduated high school on time but I was a terrible high school student. It wasn’t until the Marines – when I experienced death and suffering on opposite sides of the spectrum: the humanitarian side and the combat side – did I start to gain motivation. That motivation is to absolutely do my best all the time, make a difference, and help as many people as possible – all while remembering the fallen and the wounded in action. That’s what drove me from an enlisted Infantry Marine to Lawyer.”
Kajihiro said that although some of his fellow grunts might be surprised to know he became a lawyer, what he learned as a Marine translates well to his current position reviewing and litigating USACE construction contracts and taking care of administrative law matters.
“The things that I learned as an Infantryman that help me as an attorney are operational/field experience, adaptability, and a sense of duty. This helps me weigh the risks to do the right thing in an ever-changing operational environment.”
Kajihiro said that’s important to him because when you work in law there are a lot of things that are open to interpretation.
“The biggest challenge in my current job is consistently operating in the grey area. Many Office of Counsel assignments have no correct answer, where being on the wrong side of the grey area could result in major fallbacks for TAM; however, weighing our options and assessing the risks for each one is what we do. That’s what I like about my current job – it is both a challenge and a joy. I love operating in the grey and turning the grey into a lighter shade of grey.”
He also said his military service gave him a desire to not give up telling a story about having to pass a swim test to get into the unit he wanted to join.
“Following my completion of the Marine Corps School of Infantry, I was assigned to a unit that specialized in clandestine amphibious raids using the Combat Rubber Raiding Craft (CRRC), which required a high level of swimming competence. The problem was that I was not a competent swimmer and I only had three weeks until the test. I started a 24-Hour Fitness gym membership and for three weeks, I swam four to five times a week. As the test date approached, I felt prepared. Following the three weeks of preparation I failed to qualify, and they sent me away. As I was walking back to the barracks, I began thinking about how I was going to explain to my newly made friends why I would be transferring out of the unit. Halfway back to the barracks, I stopped, turned around, and soaking wet on the side of the road, I yelled at myself, “(expletive) I’m not giving up!” With renewed motivation, I ran back to the pool soaking wet. Seeing my motivation, they gave me another chance. Despite being completely out of breath from running back to the pool and this being my second swim qualification test of the day – I passed. That’s how I spent the remainder of my Marine Corps enlistment in a Special Operations Capable unit.”
Ken’s coworkers are also quick to praise his time with the Marine Corps as providing him the tools he needs to succeed as a lawyer.
Rebecca Bockmann, TAM’s Deputy District Counsel, said, “Ken’s life experiences—namely, his military service—have equipped him to contribute to TAM in a unique way. He consistently finds new ways to look at a situation or solve a problem, a skillset that he undoubtedly sharpened as a Marine. The work Ken has done in his short time here at TAM speaks volumes and he has a bright future with our organization.”
“Ken’s background as a Marine has helped shape his approach to being a lawyer. Ken is always looking for ways to improve the delivery of legal services, sincerely cares for his colleagues and clients, and inspires others with his commitment to public service. In his short time with Office of Counsel, Ken has become a key contributor to our organization. We are extremely fortunate that Ken chose to start his legal career with the Middle East District,” said Rob McKenney, TAM’s District Counsel.