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Reflection on Service

Two Syracuse University professors recall their time in the military and remember those who have served.

A Higher Calling: James E. Baker

Hon. James E. Baker salutes after graduating from the Marine Officer Candidates School.

The Hon. James E. Baker has always known that he was meant for a life of public service. Growing up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, he was raised—as his mother once told him—to be a teacher. But he had other plans.

“I came to the conclusion at a young age that anybody who had the educational opportunities I was given had an obligation to perform public service,” says Judge Baker, a professor in Syracuse University’s College of Law and director of the Institute for Security Policy and Law. “Teaching is public service, but I embraced the concept of the citizen-soldier.”

Baker joined the U.S. Marine Corps at the age of 18 after spotting several recruitment brochures on the floor of the college post office. “I was looking for the hardest thing I could do and found it on the floor of the post office,” he says. He started his military career as an infantry officer in the Marine Corps and subsequently joined the staff of Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan. He was a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, a federal civilian court that hears military justice appeals, for 15 years before retiring in 2015.

It was Sen. Moynihan who urged him to go to law school, an idea that Baker initially wasn’t crazy about but eventually warmed to. “I do love the concept of rule of law. I want to live in a democracy and in a country that's governed by law. Having the opportunity to support and defend the Constitution, I think, is as high a calling as you can have as a lawyer,” says Baker, who is partial to all corps such as the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps. “It is also the oath that service members take defining their ultimate duty: ‘to support and defend the Constitution.’”

Baker has taught at several law schools around the country and says Syracuse University’s commitment to veterans is one of the things that distinguishes the school. He says he encountered only a single veteran on the faculty of the other law schools where he taught. “College campuses tend not to be places where there's a lot of military experience, and one of Syracuse's strengths is that they value and embrace that experience,” he explains. “In academics, we recognize diversity as an educational value and a democratic principle. The military is the most diverse institution I have ever been associated with, which is likely one reason it puts so much emphasis on character, commitment and competence as virtues—not where you are from, your school or who your parents are.”

Judge James Baker portrait.
Hon. James E. Baker, professor of law and director of the Institute for Security Policy and Law.

One of the ways the College of Law has been particularly helpful to active duty students is through its online law degree JDinteractive, Baker says. Many of the program’s students are active duty service members, veterans or military-connected. “Syracuse University and the College of Law provided the platform for these students, who otherwise wouldn’t have had the opportunity to attend law school.”

As the Orange community celebrates Veterans Day, Baker reflects on those who have served a greater good. “I always think about the people who served who didn’t come home. They hold a special place for all of us on Veterans Day.” Three years ago, Baker started a tradition of the law school holding its own Veterans Day commemoration. “I wanted to make sure that, even at a university like Syracuse that genuinely values military service, its law school also made that connection and celebrated this mission of supporting and defending the Constitution.”

Rebel With a Cause: Marion Dorfer

Basic training team photo.
Marion Dorfer (top row, third from right) in basic training, 1978.

When Associate Professor Marion Dorfer joined the U.S. Army, she did so despite the fact that her mother, father and brother had all served in the U.S. Air Force. “I think I joined the Army instead of the Air Force because I was more of a rebel. I wanted something different,” says Dorfer, who has taught surface pattern design, computer-aided pattern design and computer design classes in the College of Visual and Performing Arts’ School of Design since 1992.

Dorfer served four years in the Army, earning a certificate of photography while at Ft. Lowry Air Force Base in Denver, Colorado, and a certificate of training in illustration and graphic design while assigned to the 6th PSYOPs (Psychological Warfare Operations) Battalion in Ft. Bragg, North Carolina. There, Dorfer worked in a mobile printing unit, supporting the Army Special Forces and 82nd Airborne Divisions during field exercises. “I was doing graphic work on pamphlets, leaflets, certificates and good conduct passes during field exercises. It was fun,” she says.

Marion Dorfer portrait.
Marion Dorfer at Fort McClellan in Anniston, Alabama, 1978.

Dorfer loved “shooting the bazooka, throwing grenades and completing obstacle courses during basic training,” but her most memorable assignment came in the early 1980s in Ft. Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania, when the area was being used as a center to house Cuban refugees. “It was the saddest thing, seeing these people get off the buses with only the clothes on their backs,” Dorfer says.

Her assignment was to provide photography and graphic support for the Cuban refugee newspaper La Libertad, the Red Cross, and the local safety awareness office, for which she was awarded an Army Achievement Medal. She and her team subsequently trained the refugees on how to run the paper, which was used to communicate with the area’s Cuban population. Her work on behalf of the Cuban Alien Support Program earned her a Department of the Army Certificate of Achievement.

Dorfer received a Good Conduct Medal and numerous letters of commendation for her service. She was honorably discharged from the Army after serving four years with the goal of pursuing an education in a creative field. She earned an A.A.S. with high honors from Onondaga Community College, and then a B.F.A. and an M.F.A. in surface pattern design from Syracuse University.

Dorfer joined the Veterans Affinity Group when it was established in 2014, and she’s been impressed with the University’s commitment to veterans. “The focus on veterans is needed, and the way the University has built that is amazing. I think a lot of veterans feel lost sometimes when they come out of the service, and the fact that we have all these programs for veterans, the National Veterans Resource Center and the VA hospital nearby is great,” she says.

Dorfer sees Veterans Day as a way to reflect on and remember those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. “I'm glad that it's recognized, because there was a period there where there was nothing for the military,” she says. “It's important to remember who sacrificed for the opportunities and freedom that we have.”

Lisa Maresca

This story was published on .


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