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Michael Badilla: remembering MSU overseas

To honor the MSU Criminal Justice Department, U.S. Air Force Senior Paralegal, Michael Badilla had a small American flag flown on a combat, search-and rescue mission out of Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, in March 2012.

"I was taking a part of Minot State with me to Afghanistan," he said.

The flag flew on an HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter, which performs medevac missions in the war zone. The flights support Operation Enduring Freedom.

The Renton, Wash., native joined the U.S. Air Force in 2001, just before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Working with military aircraft was a tradition in his family. His grandfather was an F-100 pilot during the Korean War, and his stepfather was a crew chief on Chinook helicopters in the Gulf War era.

Badilla began his career at Whiteman AFB in Missouri. He served as a crew chief on B-2 (Stealth) bombers for four years.

"You do the maintenance on the aircraft," he said of the job. "You're in a sense the owner of the aircraft. You lend it out to all the specialists. You give it over to the pilot whenever it's time to have it flown."

Badilla earned a bachelor's degree in criminal justice from Park University in Missouri. Due to Air Force staffing needs, he left aircraft maintenance and became a paralegal in 2005.

The Air Force deployed him to Iraq in 2007 and to Afghanistan in 2011. In the latter war zone, the legal office consisted of one attorney and one paralegal. It served the needs of active duty, National Guard and reserve forces along with eligible civilians in the country.

Badilla quickly learned that modern warfare straddles borders and time zones. For example, the legal team had to be conversant with U.S., NATO and Afghan law. When questions arose, they had to telephone legal headquarters at Shaw AFB in South Carolina. When legal complexities became too maddening, he'd escape the office for a place of remembered serenity.

"One of the things that I loved in Kandahar was being able to go around the flight line and talk to the folks doing the job," he said. "If I was able to turn a wrench, I'd absolutely do that."

Badilla returned to Minot Air Force Base in June. He is currently completing a master's degree in criminal justice at Minot State.

"I've had nothing but good interactions with the CJ Department, Graduate School and the university as a whole," he said.

To read this story in its entirety, or other articles like this, check out the Winter 2012 issue of MSU's Connections Magazine.