#42 – Don Brown: Navy JAG to private practice and author. Had an awesome conversation with former Navy JAG and now private practice attorney and author, Don Brown. Don shares his incredible experiences both in the military and as an attorney, joining part of the legal team of Clint Lorance, a case that has gotten national attention. Don is also the author of many books, both non-fiction and fiction, including titles like Call Sign Extortion 17 – The Shoot-Down of SEAL Team Six. Here are links to a few of his books:
Call Sign Extortion 17: The Shoot-Down of SEAL Team Six https://amzn.to/3m9aJ9r
Travesty of Justice: The Shocking Prosecution of Lt. Clint Lorance https://amzn.to/3qNvIlR
Treason (Navy Justice Series): https://amzn.to/2KhTJkg
Aaron Spatz 00:05
I’m Aaron Spatz, and this is the Veterans Business Podcast. A podcast centered around the stories of US military veterans, and their adventures in the business world following their time in service. Its stories of challenges and obstacles, and an inside look at how veterans find their life’s work, their purpose, and their post military lives. Welcome to another edition of the Veterans Business Podcast. I’m Aaron Spatz. Thanks so much for tuning in this week. I’d love to hear from you. If so, if don’t hesitate at all to drop me a line at podcast at Bold media.us. I’d love to hear from you. And if you’re enjoying these stories and all these different interviews, feel free to share and tell others about the show. I’m so incredibly excited to welcome this week’s guests. This week we have author Don Brown. Don is a veteran Navy JAG officer where he spent a number of years on active duty and in the reserves while advancing his legal career. And authoring a number of both fiction and nonfiction works. I happen to have a copy of one actually right here one of his nonfiction books call sign extortion 17. The shoot down of Seal Team Six, which offers a fascinating perspective on that fateful day and circumstances surrounding it. Done. I just want to thank you so much for agreeing to be on the show.
Don Brown 01:21
Aaron, thanks for having me. Thanks for doing the podcast and reaching out or a veteran through the podcast. You’re doing a great work and we really, really appreciate.
Aaron Spatz 01:31
Thank you so much. Yeah, no, it’s it’s my it is my sincere pleasure. I would love to would love to just dive right into it. I would love to understand a little bit about your upbringing. A little bit about your, your background, what what inspired you to join the military?
Don Brown 01:46
Well, I am you know, my dad served in the army. My grandfather’s did not but beyond that I have a history of military service, my family and I grew up in eastern North Carolina around the water, Azzam boats around ships that were you know, we’re near Norfolk, always had a fascination with the Navy and always kind of in the back of my mind want to join the Navy, but never really solidified that desire until I was really a senior in college and, and decided that I want to do this and started the process, the ROTC applications and, and actually applied for trying to get to spite school got turned down initially. Because at the time we were in a recession, and they were only taking technical degrees and had a political science degree. So then I said, Well, I apply to law school and try to go into the JAG program, I got accepted into the JAG program. And one thing led to the other. And here we are. Wow, that’s, that’s pretty
Aaron Spatz 02:47
wild. And I’ve always enjoyed seeing everybody’s just really unique way of entering military exhibit. It is it’s always a unique, unique story. It’s a unique path. And I actually grew up in the Norfolk area, being a navy Navy brat myself, but But yeah, the the Jag, the JAG route is really unique. I do recall a handful of law option folks going through the basic school in Quantico. And it seems like it’s a very unique program. So you had to go through, obviously, you get your undergrad degree. And then after that, you’re I mean, you’re doing law school, and then at what so as you’re wrapping up law school, then you’re saying, Hey, I think I want to rather than go into private practice, I would like to serve, you know, doing law inside the military. That right?
Don Brown 03:36
That’s correct. And the thing, the thing about it is I wanted to be a lot officer, and couldn’t get in Pensacola initially, which is where an 85 school is. Then I got picked up for the JAG programming was commissioned. And the end of my first my first semester of law school, the recruiter came and said, Listen, you know, you, you know, you can still we got room for you in Pensacola now. But you have to leave law school and leave the JAG program, and we’re going to put you in the back seat because I did not have uncorrected 2020 vision. So I was sort of at a crossroads there. I say, and that had to stick with what I was doing, you know, So had I had uncorrected 2020 vision I may have may have done that I wanted to be a Navy pilot, but the Lord knows better than I do. But, you know, these, these crossroads we all face, and that was one of mine. But, um, I think in retrospect, I probably did the right thing. I’m probably, you know, a better writer and lawyer than I might have been a pilot. I might have gotten somebody hurt. I’ve been a pilot.
Aaron Spatz 04:39
No, I mean, I think it’s, I think it’s fascinating, though. Like, I think you’re hitting on a point already that maybe maybe we sit here and talk about this for a second. But when you when you arrive at a crossroads in your career, I mean that. I mean, it’s like you’ve got you’ve got unlimited options, or maybe you’ve got two options. And so I mean, how do you go through that process of discovering what it is? You want to do I mean, I’m, it’s I mean, everybody’s got their own process. So if you can think back to that time, like, what was that? What was that decision making process like for you?
Don Brown 05:09
Well, first off, if if I had been picked up for AOCs, out to gone, even if at the time it was, you know, uncorrect division, you got to become a naval flight officer and sit in the backseat, I would have done that, because I really want to be a naval officer. But then, you know, I mean, I apply for the JAG program, which is very competitive also. And, and had done pretty well in the first semester of law school. So I’m at a crossroads and think, Well, I’ve got two routes to become a naval officer, now, I’m already well into one. And I just sort of decided that if it had been the Lord’s will, for me to have gotten into flight school initially would have worked out and sort of took that position and, and kind of ran with it. Sometimes I have a lot of wonder, have been a lot of what ifs about all kinds of things. I mean, I mean, I was five, active and another 11 in the reserves, and sometimes, you know, I wish what, uh, what I wonder what if I’d stayed active longer. So you wonder about a lot of things, but you just kind of have to, to kind of look at what your situation is, and try to do the best balancing that you can. And I felt like, I had sort of an opportunity, the best of both worlds. And really, either decision in that case, to me would not have been a, a bad decision. But I’d already you know, spent, you know, a semester law school even back, you know, 30 years ago, is not a drop in the bucket. So that would have been money down the drain. And that was, I think, also a factor also, and, and I was doing well, and had a very strong first semester. And, and thought, Well, I’m on a decent track. And I seem to have an aptitude for it. And wasn’t an easy decision. But it was a decision that I stuck with, I guess in retrospect, I’m glad that I did.
Aaron Spatz 06:53
Yeah, no, that’s, that’s fantastic. So then take us through then, you know, what was that like then after you completed law school, and then now you’re on active duty as a JAG officer. So what I mean, what’s that experience like?
Don Brown 07:07
Well, I’ll say that, for me, it was absolutely the best professional spirit experience I ever could have had. And I would do it all over again, without blinking an eye. One of the reasons that I was I always wanted to go to Navy because of my love of the sea, and just gonna go on up and around the ocean around the sounds. And you know, you did also so you may understand that a bit. I heard you using the basic school. So it’s certainly a little bit of Marine Corps background of me. But anyway, it was, it was a situation where that if I if I want to be a JAG officer, either will be the Army, the Navy, because I wanted to litigate, and you get much better litigation opportunities, because at the time, and I think it’s probably still true, the highest number of courts martial are in the army. And in the Navy, in the Marine Corps, you know, naval Navy jag officers are interchangeable with Marine Corps jag officers, and we sometimes find ourselves on the same side of cases, and often size of cases. And I want to try and a lot of cases, my colleague, my Marine colleagues at Camp told me when I was in San Diego, so but anyway, um, the opportunity to litigate this, what appealed to me initially, and I did, in fact, get some of the best trial training that you can get it and they will justice school, they really were absolutely fabulous. Already had a pretty good command of the rules of evidence, one of them they will justice school, because at a very strong trial at background law school, but you know, I was doing felony level, you know, felony level, right prosecutions within, you know, six months out of being an out of naval justice school. So I’m trying federal level of cases as a prosecutor very, very soon on picking military juries. We call military jury members in the military and the experience was invaluable and they sent me out Sandy Aygo, and which was my first duty station tour. So I wanted to get out of the way for the East Coast just to see us out of the country Tamika is gorgeous and, and wound up going to the US Attorney’s Office as a special assistant United States attorney, still active duty but dealing with, you know, federal lawsuits filed against a navy or US government under the Federal Tort Claims Act. I dealt with a one of the cases that I dealt with in fact, probably the most significant case I’ve dealt with as a special assistant United States United States attorney is that we had an F 14 and Aaron You’re probably too young remember the F 14 And maybe you saw a movie talk? No,
Aaron Spatz 09:42
no, I so. So just real quick. So being being being a navy kid growing up I mean, we lived not far from the solar station Oceana in Norfolk and I mean, I remember F 14 tomcats flying all over the place back then yeah, no, that’s your your you bring you bring back some good memories
Don Brown 09:59
and I still have a an affinity for the F 14 Could found, I think 20 targets and attract 20 targets found six targets simultaneously it was very became costly and expensive to keep in the air. But at the time, the naval Toplin school was at Miramar has since moved to a Naval Air Station, the Fallon and we had a, we had an F 14, unfortunately go down on a training mission just over brown field, which is in San Diego County, North of the Mexican border. And we lost one of the two guys I think the pilot survived, the student did not the the the chopper, the the jet went down into a helicopter hangar and blew up and, and I wound up handling. Naturally, there were a number of lawsuits were filed from that, and I was handling those on behalf of Navy. So I got some experience doing a major, a major ABA, military aviation disaster case, which is it turned out we finally got most of those claims that or one of them was went to federal court, but it was just a real, real tragedy. But years later, you know, you mentioned the book you have there the callsign extortion, one seven or sports sports and 17 It was my background really in handling that case that sort of grease the skids, so to speak for me able to meet any need to be able to help some of those family members with that investigation, which you may get to later. But, but that involve a helicopter at ch 47. I’m sure that went down and war that Province, Afghanistan in 2011. So one thing leads to another and leads to another and then you went up here with with, you know, on the veterans podcasts, you know, you never know where you’re gonna wind up.
Aaron Spatz 11:46
Yeah, no, that’s awesome. Well, I mean, it’s, I mean, like, obviously, it’s unfortunate the situations that that you end up finding yourself involved with, but phenomenal experience, though, for you in terms of being able to go through these different different legal experiences, you know, representing the government or dealing with the private sector and dealing with all these different cases. I mean, it’s, I mean, like unbelievable opportunity for you in terms of just getting really to get some really heavy experience that probably it doesn’t come around to all the all that often. And so, or if it does, it’s I mean, it’s like a bit of a crapshoot on who’s gonna get who’s gonna build to get to do that kind of work. And so talk, talk us them through the the journey, then as you decide to leave active duty, and then, I believe is then when you entered into private practice.
Don Brown 12:39
That’s right. Well, that, that f 14 case I mentioned to you was, was the largest case that I handle that was downtown San Diego as a Special Assistant US Attorney, as a Navy JAG officer representing Navy for a period of a little over a year. And that case was large. So have we handled a number of other cases do we had, you know, maybe doctors can’t really sue an individual doctor, if they have to do to be sue the United States. Anyway, as a practical matter, naval doctors being sued for medical malpractice in defending those types of cases as well. And when I finished that tour, then about crossroads, you come to another crossroads. And at the time, I was ranked as the top senior lieutenant in San Diego before that didn’t mean much, though. Here’s what I meant and that, and that, that I could take my pick pretty much duty station so so I had a chance either to go to the Naval justice school as an instructor had a chance to go to the, to the Naval to the US Naval Academy as a military law instructor, I had an offer a chance to go to we had a we had a listening post. And in Scotland, Edzell Scotland at the time, about 100 or so miles from Edinburgh, on the on the ocean, there are the sea there and Orsi better chance to go to Scotland, also had a chance to go to Sigonella, Sicily. And to go to QB Point Naval Air stations, I had all these, you know, all these opportunities, and then they decided to, then I had a chance to go to the Pentagon. And to you know, I wound up one of one of the Pentagon and working under the judge general and writing legal opinions for the Secretary of the Navy. Now, that job probably may not have been as exciting as some of the travels that could have been available with some of the other TV stations, you know, particularly Europe, but it was it was, you know, to be able to get to see the insides the inside of the Pentagon inside of how the SEC the Defense Department work, you know, be able to brief the Secretary of the Navy primarily through, you know, legal opinions To me wasn’t like we were drinking buddies we didn’t need a few times but but to be able to, to see the inner workings of Washington probably was another very, very, very valuable experience. But no, it was in the long run, even though it might not have been as exciting as some of the other duty stations. So that’s what I did. And I was there again for another year. And then it was right at the end of the first Persian Gulf War. And I was already slated for career track, and military, which I was great with, and I was about ready to go to a carrier. And then they started the voluntarily, voluntary separation broke if you wanted to get out. And about that time, there was a very large law firm in North Carolina, where the hiring partner, the managing partner was a Navy Captain jag reservist, who had been active duty and remaining was a captain. And he knew about me and they were looking for an attorney who was dually licensed in two states, and I’m licensed in North and South Carolina to move the Charlotte area because the the firm had a branch offices, Charlotte also branches in DC and a couple of places, but Charlotte is what they were looking for. So he recruited me and the firm was very well connected politically, in fact, is probably the most politically charged conservative firm in the state of North Carolina, which I always said to myself, if there’s ever one private firm that I would want to work for them, I draw me out of the military. That was it. And one thing led to another and so I did take an early AP was the often the early left, left DC and moved to the Charlotte area and established got into private practice in that point.
Aaron Spatz 16:41
Wow. Man. Yeah, I mean, that’s a lot that you just covered. I mean, that’s a that fascinating journey. And I think it’s, I mean, shoot getting getting the chance to go work at the Pentagon, I mean, a lot. I mean, you’re obviously you’re going to have mixed opinions, those that are watching or listening to this, we’re going to have very mixed opinions like Man, why, like, why would you ever go there, that’s like the worst place ever, then other people seeing like, you know, that’s a tremendous opportunity, even though you’re like, probably the one of the most junior people there. I mean, you’re surrounded by, you know, senior film grade and flag officers,
Don Brown 17:11
if you’re an officer, even a junior officer out in the fleet, or with the core with the troops, or whatever, you know, it’s pretty good life, for the most part. The very first though, the very first impression I had at Pentagon was this, and this is a lot. I come up to the Pentagon getting ready to report my duty station. And I’m coming in, in the afternoon, somehow, you know, but there’s their bus lines there. And I’ll tell you about how people get to work in a pic on a second. But there are bus lines here. And I look at the bus line, and there is an Air Force One star standing in the bus line holding his bag. And it is a memory that I will never, ever forget. Because anybody with a, you know, a full bird or above that comes into your office anywhere else its attention on deck, right, but Air Force One star holding his bag standing, not the two stars I didn’t see too much. But I didn’t see one star the very first day holding his bag. And I’m thinking man, what is this all about? You know, I mean, in retrospect, you know, I always wonder what if I, honestly, I would rather have been in Europe, or even in the Philippines or something like that, for that tour, just from, you know, an geographic and educational standpoint, but in terms of seeing what I needed to see is probably where I needed to be at the time. But it was a it’s a it’s quite a it’s quite a you know, and I was about I was I just picked up oh four as I was leaving active duty. So I was a senior lieutenant. But that said that that mean the hill of beans, the Pentagon, he takes up a hill of beans.
Aaron Spatz 18:47
No, no, no, that’s it. I mean, that’s funny. It’s I can only imagine. But But I mean, what once again, no, I mean, you’re you’re exposed to a lot of we’re just really unique experiences, unique perspective. And that I mean, that, that will then inform the rest of your career and a lot of other things that you’ve done. And so having that as a as an influence. At that point in your career and what you’ve been doing, I mean that that, like in the moment, you may not have fully realized it, but then looking back on it later, like wow, like this, this really was a great, a great opportunity.
Don Brown 19:19
Yeah, it’s a unique opportunity. You know, it’s, you know, not everybody gets to go there, and they don’t they, you know, they’re very selective Navy is very selective about the junior officers did they let into the Pentagon? So, you know, I mean, the killers, were all saying, you got to do this, it’s a once in a lifetime, you know, you hear that sort of thing to do, isn’t it? And they were right, you know, in a sense. I don’t I wouldn’t necessarily want to go back there. Sure. You know, is anything anything between a junior officer or if you made me Secretary navy or Secretary defense, maybe I go back there but other than that, you know, I don’t have any but it was a good experience. And and I needed it basically some of the work that I did later on and some of My writings and that sort of thing. So, you know, again, it was something that I didn’t know at the time, but it would have come back to be helpful to me later or even years
Aaron Spatz 20:07
later. Absolutely. Well, then let’s go ahead and let’s go and shift gears ever so slightly. So now you’re, you’ve, you’ve separated from from the Navy or in private practice North Carolina. Talk us then through the journey of writing. So I mean, you’ve you’ve published a number of fiction works is kind of where you got started, but like, where did Have you always been a writer? Is that has that always been something you’ve you’ve done on the side? Or, like, at what point did that finally reach a point where like, you know, what, it’s time to actually publish a book.
Don Brown 20:36
Right? Well, the answer your question is yes. And no, I published, we have 14 books that are out now. 11 are, are are fiction, in the last three are nonfiction in the last three, the nonfiction probably may have made the biggest impact, you know, in various areas. But um, I think I’ve always had, I’ve always, probably had a little bit of talent as a writer, when I was in school, especially, you know, in grade school and your high school, you know, teachers really loved read my stuff, but be honest with you, I was lazy, I didn’t. I just you know, when different directions and in college road just enough to get by never really, you but when you get in, you know, when you get into writing legal briefs, you got to become more precise. But I never had any desire, you know, to write, really, until the early 2000s. And, you know, gone to a cocktail party here in Charlotte. And, you know, it was, it was kind of a interesting mix. We had some friends at the time. And one of my XY, we had some friends who they were sort of an interesting couple, the husband was a, he was a steel contractor here in Charlotte and had a very successful fabrication company, they put all the steel into what is now known as Bank of America Stadium where the Carolina Panthers play and do a lot of steel, a lot of work for Bank of America, which is headquartered here, just a very active, you know, construction steel construction group, and his wife was very artsy, sort of artsy fartsy, as we would say, you know, and, and that night, it was early January, and I went to undergraduate University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and we have a decent football team. Now back in those days, you had a decent basketball team, maybe we still do. But there was a basketball game that night, I wanted to see the game, I didn’t even really want to go to the party. I want to stay home, watch the basketball game, I’d rather watch sports and socialize and sit wine and champagne. So so but I got I went up at the party anyway. But when I got a party, I found out that that game was there was a big screen in the basement, the house, make a long story short, I’m going to the basement a house and flip on the big screen start watching the game. But then I’m going upstairs. You know, during the commercials and a halftime to make it sort of appear that I was there, up and down, up and down like and did this all night long. And then hand the party lob. Kind of bad that you know, that I had not really spent enough time socializing, I was watching the game. And also the hostess had this wonderful, you know, little concoction that she had made of. It was kind of like a punch and champagne type thing. You couldn’t taste the champagne. And to be honest with you, when I was going up to the commercials, I was pouring a little bit, bring it back down to the end. And I have wait. Yeah, I didn’t realize that hits at too much, too much to set not even knowing. So to make a long story short, next day, I sit down and I write a note to the hostess and saying Dear Dana, thank you so much for the invitation to your party. I really enjoyed the party. And then I’ve just out of the blue quoted Dickens said it was the best of times and it was the worst of times worse time. So they got a headache from drinking too much. And I’m just being honest with you. So then I wrote a bunch of other bowling and it was a handwritten note. And a couple of days later, get it note back. Dear Don, thank you. Thank you for that wonderful note. It’s the best note anybody wrote me you should use it write a book. So she wrote me this note. I’m thinking well, yeah, heck, okay. And that’s how I got started here at a cocktail party. And you know,
Aaron Spatz 24:23
that’s a great one. Yeah. That’s funny. Yeah. So you’re like sneaking up and down the stairs. Watch the game. Like, oh, by the way, thanks. Thanks for giving me a headache. It was great. You know? Right. That’s awesome. No, that’s, that’s, that’s super cool. No, that’s, that’s great. The Yes, let me let’s go ahead and dive in into this a little bit more specifically. So I mean, you know, when your books travesty of justice obviously covers the Clint Lawrence case. I mean, right. What What was that experience like? Because you I mean, I’m not gonna pretend to know all the details. Obviously you You’re the guy. But how did you get involved with that? Like, how did that whole situation transpire?
Don Brown 25:06
Right? Well, it piggybacks really on to the extortion, 17 extortion, one seven book that I wrote. And that if your viewers don’t know, that’s about the shoot down of a CH, 47. D and of Afghanistan 2011. We lost the US Navy SEALs. Thank you for holding that. Yeah, you got it. Right. I learned everything. We lost 1717 US Navy SEALs primarily from SEAL Team Six or Deb bruise we call the Naval Special Warfare Development Group in out of Virginia, the Virginia Beach area. And anyway, so I wrote that book. And that was the largest loss of life. In the Afghan war, Laura’s largest single loss of life, and also the largest, single loss of life in the history of the Navy SEALs. And some of the things that came the we examined that book was the issue of rules of engagement. And at that time of the Afghan War, there were there were three sets of rules of engagement that really, a lot of us were arguing against, you know, one of the rules of engagement, and there are three of them, and I can go into your life was what I call disengage upon retreat. In other words, if you’re if you’re engaging the enemy, and they’re engaging back, you’re in a firefight. And if they if they turn and start leaving and running away, well, under the rule under disengagement retreat, the rules that were in place at the time, you couldn’t take them out. I can I can just imagine somebody telling general patent Hey, you can’t take these Nazis out. Yeah. Even if they’re one of them. The Third Army right, but that rule came into play in the extortion one seven case. And it’s because what happened was this chopper was flying toward a landing zone. We had an AC 130 gunship circling overhead and and saw the chakra finding the landing zone and saw Taliban moving to the landing zone, having just been in a firefight with Army Rangers, the AC 130 request permission to take the Taliban out permission was denied because they were retreating. So anyways, the chopper chopper guy shot now and I don’t want to sidetrack on that because you asked about justice. But because of that I got involved with with working on Capitol Hill with with my friend Billy Vaughn, who lost his son extortion, one seven, on rules of engagement changes. We’ve been up there and met with members of the Congress. And his extortion came out in 2015. It was in 2018. Or I believe that we were there was a rules of engagement conference that was being hosted in Stuart, Florida. And, and it was kind of a think tank thing. We were talking about recommendations to take to the Congress on improving rules and engagement to protect our warfighters. And the way I got involved the Rance case is I got a call from one of Sean Hannity’s producers, Laura McLaughlin at the time saying, listen, hey, I heard about this, this a conference you’re having, I want you to meet somebody. And he might like to come to the conference, and it was Lieutenant Colonel John Moher, who had been the lead counsel at the time. And you know, 2018, for Clint the rants, and, and John came down and did a PowerPoint on the basics of the case. And it became obvious to me that he was getting he was getting nowhere at all in the military justice system. He raised a lot of questions, you know, as to why biometrics evidence was not included in the original court martialed 2012. And at that time, they were still, they still have one more hoops to jump through. With it was the final approval or rejection or Reversal by the armed forces Armed Forces court, a review in Washington. And I was saying, John, listen, you don’t get any relief, you know, what we should do is write a book on this. And then and then and then try see if we can get some some President department because that’s the only way you’re gonna get relief for this guy. And John, I’m still was in the middle of federal litigation. And the case still is has some parts of it, what’s left, it’s still in federal litigation. But in terms of getting clean out of prison, it was still kind of a little bit of federal litigation. So, you know, so he was not ready to do a book at that time. Several months later, after the highest military appeals court rejected a review of the case and it was time to pitch it over into the federal court. John came back to Okay, it’s time to do this. So he brought me on board, the Lawrence defense team. And you know, last year 2019 between 2018 2019 probably make 2020 trips to Leavenworth man, and to interview Clint and I had a commitment from both Sean Hannity, and phf who’s Fox News that they would get the book came out that they would, they would publicize the book and And based upon that, we wrote the book. And Shawn and Pete both kept their words when the book came out and in the end of March of last year, you know, I was on Hannity within days, made probably five different appearances on Fox News television. between that time and actually Thanksgiving night, the after clean have been released. So that’s how it came about.
Aaron Spatz 30:29
Wow. Well, I mean, and I mean, for those that aren’t as familiar with it, they haven’t read the book. Maybe you haven’t followed, like, give just give everyone a quick overview of what that case centered around.
Don Brown 30:39
Well clumped around was a second airborne paratrooper who had been enlisted. He went to the green in the Army’s Green to Gold program became an officer after having served 10 years, you know, as an enlisted guy as military policeman had been in, in both Iraq and Afghanistan. I became an officer and his, you know, his platoon was in Afghanistan and they were in Kandahar province in July of 2000. June July 2012, which is the most kinetic, you know, the most war torn province in the world of time. The previous this particular platoon was scheduled to roll out around July of 2012, the end of July. But before that happened, the previous platoon leader regarding DOM Latina who was a military academy grad, stepped on an IED, unfortunately was not killed. But a lot of strapping on the stomach serious injuries. Several guys that have metal back back, Clint came in to take over the whole tune. He was trying to increase you know, try to lift the morale lift the discipline a little bit to try to make sure they all got their one piece. On day two of his command out in the field. Day two, July 2 2012. Left 8am He’s out in the patrols out single file platoon through these man infested fields of Kandahar province. A motorcycle with three men starts charging this the front of the platoon. He’s got Afghan National Guard who are our allies at the front of the platoon, they start firing Klinsmann request mission to higher He gives permission to fire make long story short, two of the three Afghans were killed. And the third one runs. A clinic gets prosecuted for murder. And this is at a time when the Afghans were using what we call the IEDs, or vehicle, incendiary explosive devices. They’re like these moms on motorcycles. And they wrote, they come up to you hiring to speed air and and they pull the plug and they kill off people. And they’ve been doing that. So clip made a decision within about a 15 second period, to order as minifier. And to make a long story short, he was prosecuted for murder. They claimed that he violated rules of engagement, which this is another rule of engagement. I’ve mentioned there are three the first rule of engagements what I call I mentioned disengage upon repeat retreat. That’s what happened, the extortion case, the rule that they would try to go after clean on swat at the time I call the battlefield lawyer rule. So you got to stop. If you see what you think might be a hostile, hostile, hostile enemy approaching, you have to determine hostile intent. How you going to do that? And hostile act. So how are you going to do that when they’re coming up 40 miles an hour on a motorcycle, on a road where their their signs to say stay off the road? Only US troops on the road where they’re be trying to turn them back? How are you going to determine that so so Clint fired and the army want to make example of them at the time. This was about two months after Staff Sergeant Bob bales who is 11 worth now was accused in something called the Kandahar massacre, where he was accused of one night going out and shooting up, you know, 1516 civilians. So the army was looking to serve somebody who’s had on a silver platter and Clint was in the wrong place at the wrong time. So they browbeat his platoon members that first of all, they threatened prosecute them all for murder, and then basically agreed to leniency if his platoon members would testify against him. And and some did. But not all, the testimony went directly to the shooting, a lot of it had to do with other things as well to try to portray him as a bad guy. But the biggest problem with the case, Aaron is that we have been we have been putting together this massive biometrics program in Afghanistan since about 2006, where we could identify just about anybody over there, especially in those really worked on provinces like Helmand and Kandahar. And as it turns out, two of the three motorcycle riders that were shot that day were Taliban in the words. We had found, you know, DNA evidence can linking them to bombs that have been built to try and kill Americans. And that information was withheld from the military jury in 2012. And the rules of court martial UCMJ states that it is a that if you kill an enemy combatant in combat, that it is presumed to be a lawful killing. And that presumption Clint was entitled to at his trial. But because the DNA evidence was never never presented, you’ll hear stuff is still controversial. You look up something war criminal, pardon my trump or this any other. Most of those idiots that are writing those hours don’t know a damn thing about what the real facts are. I’ll just tell you, there was evidence to exonerate this kid. DNA evidence showed it to the three riders were in fact, Taliban. And that was kept away from the jury. And that’s what the that’s the main point of many points, driven home in the book. And that’s the reason the President decided to, to depart in class. And I’m glad that he did. And it should have happened a long time ago, before even President Trump was in office.
Aaron Spatz 35:55
Yeah. Wow, man, that’s a that’s a lot. That’s a lot of stuff to take in. I mean, I remember. I mean, I’m not gonna at all pretend to be in Clint situation. I was. I served in Helmand 2011 2012. So shortly before all that happened, but I was in a, I was in a very different role working part of the General Staff there. But I, I’ve mentioned that only because I remember distinctly, lots of conversations were always taking place about the targeting process and pattern of life and hostile lack hostile intent. And you know, so you had to go through this entire sequence of events in order to lawfully prosecute a target. And so I cannot imagine being the guy on the ground in in his case, he’s brand new. I mean, like, so like, what I’m interrupting myself here, but like, how can you have guys that are that are testifying against him? And they’ve only they’ve only known the guy for two days? I mean,
Don Brown 36:50
well, because you threaten to prosecute him with murder if they don’t. And that’s what happens. When you look at the sworn statements. They’re sworn statements to go from, you know, from is a justified shooting. Yeah, they gave statements that army Cid that night. And then 30 days later, they bring their brow beaten into other statements. Well, I don’t remember if the Afghan shopper is I don’t remember this after saying they did. Yeah. And I’ll tell you, you know, you’re in Helmand. So you know, what a hell hold that place. So as my son is 82nd airborne now and just got back from there was a helmet and they moved him to up to low Garda, what’s left at bay shank. But thank God, he’s back. But you know, so you know how kinetic that area was? And so you talk about pattern of life. You also know about the eye in the sky, you know about the big, you know, I mean, the the big balloons that look like the Goodyear Blimp that were flying, let me tell you something. The book this book came out in March of 2019. Well, in December of 2019, you may find this of interest, the Soldier of Fortune Magazine ran an article on Clints case. And when it did, it actually spurred to two witnesses to call the defense team. Okay, one witness who called the defense team was the, the command master sergeant over the entire troop, this was a, this is, you know, you used to what a company is in the, in the, this was a Calvary scout group. They call a company a troop and the cavalry scouts is something is indigenous. So it was the, it was the the Command Sergeant Major 30 Some years on active duty, wrote called us after seeing the article and saying, I this case is a bunch of bullshit, that the army Cid never asked for my opinion as to whether you know whether, you know, the lieutenant acted correctly under the rules of engagement. He said, We have thrown him under the bus. Staff Sergeant Dan, this Dawson, you could read. I included his interview in the book. So we have call from him. He’s never never interviewed. And the other thing, we got a call from a pattern of life expert who operating one of these, one of these. One of these big blimps, you know that we got I use that phrase because you’re, they’re called aerostats, actually, but I use the phrase Goodyear Blimp because people seem to get your blimp floating over the football stadium, the Super Bowl, but we’re floating those things all over Afghanistan. They got cameras on high powered cameras. And that very morning, Aaron that very morning. This guy Kevin, you recalled us and he was the aerostat operator in that region. He got a call because we intercepted we intercepted and this didn’t go to the jury either. Taliban radio traffic indicated they were going to ambush an American platoon that morning. That was Clint Splatoon. So they asked that aerostat operator Kevin ueber to turn his camera over and follow clips platoon and he did and he followed since platoon all the way up to the point before the motorcycle arrived, and he turned his camera elsewhere. But he told us that he saw Taliban trailing them aren’t Taliban trailing that platoon on the ground with weapons The balloon platoon did not know about it. Um, Kevin said hey as as a as a parent of life expert, that shot was a good shot. It was in a contested war zone. This this, this platoon actually engaged other Taliban that morning on a patrol that lasted a little less than three hours, they exchanged fire with other Taliban. There were other Taliban pulled off the ground that morning with explosive resonant residue. The prosecution one of the convictions so bad they portrayed this as a, you know, you’ve been the Helman so you know, what it’s like, you know, what Kandahar is like, like a, like a passive little Sunday stroll in the park, when in fact, they’re in the middle of a war zone. And you know, better than I have, because you’re an afghan that and I’m not but that platoon was moving single file with a what we call a mon hound up front, because there were so many IDs are in layman’s terms, you know, mines or bombs in the ground, you step to the left and a right and boom, you’re gone. So this case should never have ever even been brought under any circumstances. It’s not like a situation. Clint was compared to Lieutenant Calley. 50 some years ago in Vietnam, totally, totally, totally different segments in a situation where you’re ordering somebody to shoot civilians, Owner, civilians. This is a 15 second decision on life or death. And the prosecution was political from start to finish, because we wanted to show Karzai that we were willing to get tough for what we call civilian casualties, or as the acronym goes, SIB Cass. So I didn’t need to preach a sermon, but you asked the question. Oh, that’s
Aaron Spatz 41:39
good. I know. That’s just my job. I just like to poke and see what happens, you know, so, yeah, that’s it. So, but no, I mean, there, there may be those that are listening that are that are just curious about the general process as it relates to publishing in becoming a published author. So I mean, what what, what insight or what kind of what words of advice do you have for those that are out there that are looking to do that?
Don Brown 42:04
Well, I’ll give my words of advice with a caveat that some of these are pre COVID words of AI now the publishing world is standing on its head also, do we get out of this? Okay. But let’s put all that aside. Um, you know, first off, if you love writing, write, write every day, you’ve got you’ve got to write as much as possible, like any other skill, and it’s a skill that can be developed. But what you know, after 14 books, and we’re under contract on a fifth, another one now, which is military, World War Two biography about the general general Rupert’s will report us who is the guy who came up with the Marine Corps rifleman screen, maybe you know, that era, maybe you don’t, but and was the commander of the First Marine Division World War Two. But all that aside, one of the things that I advise aspiring writers to do, is to go to a Writers Conference, find a good writers conference, which is what I did, if you can find a good writers conference, it might cost you, you know, 300 bucks or whatever, are maybe a little more or a little less, depending on the length of it. These conferences are organized, and they have, usually they’ll have instructors there, you know, published authors who come in and teach. But But the great thing about it is, the good ones will have to two folks you need to get to know, one is called a literary agent knows are the folks who can help you get in front of the publishers. And so literary agents come to these writers conferences, looking for aspiring writers with ideas and some talent. So and then you have acquisitions editors, and these are the folks who, who are the frontline of the publishing company who make a decision on whether they’re going to accept your work, part of the issue with, with getting published with a major publisher, they’re sort of a chicken or the egg, you know, dilemma. You know, Do I Do I Do I Do I have to have an agent before I get published, or to get published and get an agent? Well, it’s hard to get published without an agent. And it’s hard to get an agent unless you’re published. And I got very, very fortunate because I went on these writers conferences, and one of the instructors who, who was a, was a writer, published author. I went twice I went one year, you know, after I told you the story about, you know, you should write a book. Well, I said, Well, what the heck and I sat down, I started working on a world war two historical fiction as I write military stuff, and I was kind of having a good time with it. And I was about 1/3 of the way through and I want to say, you know, you should, you should go to a Writers Conference, there was one up in the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina went up there, and my current agent was there. And, and, you know, people go up there and this guy’s kind of a star agent, you know, superstar type agent. And but somehow, we were having there, these these people, these celebrities, will, what have lunch with the students? And we were sitting around one day and next thing and it was just me and the agent there and said, What are you working on? And I tell them what I Working on he says that sounds interesting. Where is it? I said, Well, it’s up in the room on the other side of the campus. So he said, Well, I want to see it so so I’ll leave this one stable. Galway crossed of campus had to go up a mountain and come back down and bring it back to them. So he opens my mascot, and it’s historical fish, and we’re working and you start looking to deal with this pin. He starts marketing up and I said, Hey, what are you doing? I told you wasn’t ready. He just keeps marketing up. I’m going, dang, I’m no good. Then about 20 minutes later, boom, you close it. He said, this is pretty good. He said, but you should go. Go home, finish writing it. Go find a professional editor editor and bring it back next year. And I was just dumb enough to do what he told me to do. I finished writing it brought it back next year, and the agent wasn’t there. So same thing. I’m having lunch with one of the authors, who he said, What are you working on? And I said, Well, I was working on this book. But you know, my age is not here. He said, Well, let me see it. So I go get it. Bring it to him. He starts reading through it. He says this is pretty good. And then he said, what else you working on? Nothing. What do you mean, what else more work on it’s taken me two years to write this. But here’s what I did. I said well, I said, uh, you know, I used to be a navy JAG officer, and I’ve been thinking about writing a navy jag series. And that was true. I’ve been thinking about it for five seconds after he asked me about I never thought about it before. And we only really, and at the time, Jack was most popular show on teach, right? Yeah. And it was most was still one of most popular reruns on TV. So anyway, he helped me put together a three book proposal. And the book that I was working on did not get picked up. But the JAG proposal did get picked up. And that’s how it started. So what are you been working on? What are you thinking about? I’m thinking you got crazy asked me what to work on it. You finished? I’ve just barely finished this one. I said, Well, I’ve been thinking about a Jag series, which is true. For three seconds. I didn’t tell them I’ve been thinking about it. Just
Aaron Spatz 46:54
it just came to you in the heat of the moment. You’re like, Jack series, let’s go. It did
Don Brown 46:58
came to me on the spot just like that. That’s, that’s awesome. You go.
Aaron Spatz 47:03
That’s cool. Well, no, I mean, that’s it’s a it’s a fascinating story. I mean, everybody. I mean, you see it, you see them. And there’s a lot of people that are aspiring to riot, or you’ve got people that are generally what I say just incredibly harsh on themselves. And you just, you don’t know, like, I mean, you don’t know until you present it to somebody who’s got an opinion that can actually move the needle. And so I think it’s, you’ve got
Don Brown 47:25
to take chances. Yeah, I mean, for sure. I mean, I’ve had over the years, people come to me, and, and they keep rewriting chapter one, I say, Listen, what do you want to you know, be a novelist, you need to be a perfectionist, take your pig, you can’t, there’s, you know, here’s not only one perfect book ever written, and I didn’t write it. And I tell you, um, you know, it’s the one of most frustrating things is even I mean, I’ve been fortunate to work with some pretty big publishers, and, and some smaller publishers, and, and we go through an intense editorial process. But if you write a book 200,000 words, you know, I mean, if you have, if you have a 99% accuracy rate, you got 1000 errors in the book 1000 wrong words. So it’s a very tedious process. And one of the most frustrating things is to go through 789 10 levels of edits, from multiple editors and crap still gets through. So it’s just going to happen. So if anybody out there is thinking about wanting to be a writer, take your pitch, you want to be an author, or you want to be a perfectionist, you can’t be both but you can be very good income close the boat. So don’t let you know an obsession with perfectionism. stop you. That’s what you felt you feel you’re led to do.
Aaron Spatz 48:36
That’s great words of advice. appreciate you sharing that. Would love to just real quick before we, before we go, I mean, I’ve got the books in front of me would love love to just would love to introduce this to you to the crowd here. Callsign extortion one seven. But I mean, take us through a little bit of the journey as it relates to actually writing that work. Like what was that? What was that journey like? And then we’ll and then we’ll wrap up.
Don Brown 49:01
Well, up to that point. Most of our work about all my published work had been military fiction, which I enjoy writing and, and then one day I was watching me I saw something on Facebook it was around 2013 I guess and and there was a press conference in the National Press Club with some of the family members of the who lost their sons on this chopper and several members of the Congress and several very high ranking retired generals and admirals are discussing this shoot down and I had heard about it but but that shoot now considering we lost so many guys was not as highly publicized as it should have been. So but I could tell that something had gone wrong. So as a lark you know, I sent a Facebook message to Karen bond lost her son Aaron, at source and one seven, and said listen, I saw your Prescott’s. I’m very very sorry for this. So if I can help anyway, let me know. I told her my background little bit, and I wasn’t really expecting to hear from her. Well, she writes me back the next day. We’ve been hoping, praying for someone like you Baba, blah, blah, blah and make a long story short, a month later, I met them in Atlanta. And for some reason, some high ranking listed folks in the Navy, when the family members were being brief two months after the shutdown, had passed out these disk, the CD ROMs, containing 1200 pages of the military’s crash investigation, which strangely had been declassified in a period of 60 days, which virtually never happens. Most of the time, we’ve got 50 years on a document as classified, and they’re not routinely declassified unless they’re ordered. And so I went and met them. And one thing led to another, and the book got written because of that. Wow.
Aaron Spatz 50:55
Wow. Yeah. I mean, it’s incredibly extraordinary, like you said, to see, to see report that’s traditionally kept under wraps for a very long time all of a sudden get get rushed out. And I mean, that’s, that’s fascinating.
Don Brown 51:06
Yeah, really? Absolutely. Yeah. Well,
Aaron Spatz 51:09
I’d encourage everybody to pick up a copy of the book, look forward to seeing what else what else you’re working on, Don.
Don Brown 51:16
And by the way, Aaron, I don’t know if you know, but there’s a docu drama that’s underway with regard to extortion, one, seven, and most of most of the films being shot or expecting out hopefully, in the next few months. So the book is pretty good primer for that when it comes out. So thanks for bringing, bringing attention. These guys want to keep their memories alive.
Aaron Spatz 51:37
Absolutely, absolutely. No one. And I just want to thank you, Don, thank you for taking some time to share some of your background, your experience, your words of wisdom, for those that are that are aspiring to write. And just just really appreciate, spend some time with me today.
Don Brown 51:52
My pleasure, Aaron, has been an honor. And I’ll talk to you again sometime soon.
Aaron Spatz 52:00
What a fun interview I really enjoyed speaking of Don, just a fascinating story of one just entering the legal world and then to just some of his writing experiences and just the journey that’s related to that. And so, I mean, again, I would, I would encourage you if that’s if that’s something you’ve been thinking about, follow his advice. I mean, this is a guy who’s published over 1010 different books. And so he’s I mean, he’s got a lot going on so but it was a phenomenal time to to share with him. A lot of stuff he’s doing it, as you can tell, really has deep personal meaning. And so I really appreciate him opening up a little bit. Obviously, I would encourage you to get get the books that are related to those individual stories, but I just so incredibly thankful that you’ve tuned in that you’re listening or watching and can see ya. See ya