Posted: April 29, 2004


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

Without any public fuss, Joseph R. "Beau" Biden III has been serving in the Delaware Army National Guard since August, when he was commissioned a first lieutenant doing legal work as a judge advocate.

His father was the one who blew his cover. During a speech Saturday evening in Millsboro at the Sussex County Democratic Party's spring dinner, U.S. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. talked about pinning on his son's bars.

Beau Biden has been reporting for the typical weekend a month with the 261st Signal Brigade, based in Smyrna, and expects to spend about three weeks for his annual training this June in Virginia with the JAG (Judge Advocate General) officers basic school, he said Thursday during a telephone interview.

Unlike enlisted personnel who sign up for six years, the tour of duty that comes with a commission is open-ended, according to Francis D. Vavala, the adjutant general in charge of the Delaware National Guard.

"When you're appointed as an officer, it's really a lifetime commitment. He's a great American. It's something he didn't have to do," Vavala said. The general swore in Biden in a ceremony shown by clicking here.

Biden, 35, who practices law at Monzack & Monaco in Wilmington, joins the company of other politically prominent members of Delaware's legal profession with a military career on the side.

Supreme Court Justice Myron T. Steele, a Democrat who is up for chief justice, and J. Dallas Winslow Jr., a former Republican state senator, both are retired National Guard colonels.

Superior Court Judge Richard S. Gebelein is a lieutenant colonel, currently serving as the staff judge advocate in charge of the legal staff. Gebelein, a Republican, acknowledged it certainly did not hurt to have the National Guard on his resume when he won the 1978 election for attorney general.

It would surprise nobody if Biden ran for attorney general in 2006, when M. Jane Brady, a three-term Republican, is up for re-election.

Biden said military service has been on his mind a long time, kindled in earnest when he spent about four months in Kosovo in late 2000 and early 2001 on assignment with the U.S. Justice Department, where he was an assistant U.S. attorney, and came away "very, very impressed" by the JAG officers he saw there. When he talked about it afterwards with a lawyer in the U.S. Attorney's Office in Philadelphia, a colonel in the Army Reserve, she told him he could do it himself.

"I've always thought about pursuing some sort of military career since high school, whether it be the service academies or ROTC, and all through law school, but I never did it," Biden said. "Finally I did something about it."

Gebelein, who has spent 24 years in the National Guard, says there are currently nine lawyers whose primary responsibility is to help the troops going overseas to get their legal affairs in order, often by preparing wills, powers of attorney and other documents.

"It's a different kind of law than most people practice. You get an opportunity to help a lot of kids," Gebelein said.

There is no predicting whether Biden himself would be sent to a war zone. It could happen but probably will not. "The odds are much better now than it used to be. I'm not saying it's real likely," Gebelein said.

The truth of the matter is, as Dallas Winslow put it, there is not much use for a lawyer where the shots are being fired. "There's no great demand for attorneys. They'd rather not take the attorneys with them," he quipped.

Whatever happens, it happens. "If I go, I go. You know when you sign up," Biden said.