Since joining the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps as a young First Lieutenant in 1987, Lieutenant General (LTG) Flora Darpino has remained true to her “work hard, take chances” attitude, and it has served her well during her remarkable rise to the top. But the Army wasn’t always part of LTG Darpino’s plan for her career path.
LTG Darpino was a junior at Gettysburg College when she met her now-husband Colonel (COL) (Retired) Chris O’Brien. COL O’Brien was a ROTC student and owed the Army a four-year commitment, so he joined the JAG Corps after graduating from law school at West Virginia University. LTG Darpino had also graduated from law school, at Rutgers University School of Law – Camden, and like many military spouse attorneys, did not relish the idea of taking a bar exam in every place her husband was stationed. So, though she had envisioned her future as “more suburban” – a home, a family, and a career in corporate litigation – she decided to join the JAG Corps.
Initially, the couple planned to leave the Army soon after COL O’Brien fulfilled his four-year commitment. Instead, it marked the beginning of a career that would see LTG Darpino earn the rank of Lieutenant General and begin serving in September 2013 as The Judge Advocate General of the U.S. Army – the first woman to hold the position.
LTG Darpino’s first assignment was in Stuttgart, Germany, where she served as trial defense counsel for United States Army Legal Services Agency (USALSA), U.S. Army European Command. LTG Darpino recalls that when she showed up for that first assignment, her boss said: “I told them not to send me a woman, but they sent you anyway.” Tellingly, that male boss was never promoted again; Darpino, on the other hand, obviously was – time and time again until she became the senior military legal advisor in the United States Army.
LTG Darpino’s Army career has taken her to the JAG School in Charlottesville, Virginia where she received her LLM, to the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) where she successfully completed the arduous Air Assault School, despite the fact that she was not required to attend, to Fort Campbell, Kentucky, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and to Washington, D.C. Now a three-star General, LTG Darpino has been a prosecutor, a defense counsel, chief counsel for a Corps Staff Judge Advocate Office advising a senior general in Germany, and a Department of Justice Fellow. She has also served with distinction on two combat deployments to Iraq.
During their Army careers, she and COL O’Brien have also raised two daughters, and LTG Darpino has said that: “In the end, the Army life has made us a very close-knit family with open communication. It has also produced two strong, independent daughters who I believe are ready to tackle the challenges they will encounter in life.” LTG Darpino has undoubtedly achieved an immensely successful and rewarding career where she enjoys great diversity in her legal responsibilities and being part of a “team of teams,” as she refers to the Army.
When LTG Darpino made her decision to enter the military rather than pursue a career in corporate litigation as a military spouse attorney, MSJDN did not yet exist. While the Army has undeniably benefited from LTG Darpino’s choice to serve, military spouse attorneys today are fortunate to know that they are not alone in facing the challenges of balancing their legal career with their servicemember’s. LTG Darpino believes, “the strength of our Soldiers is our family and organizations that support military families help make our Army stronger.” MSJDN thanks her for serving our country in uniform and as an example of military spouse attorney professional excellence.