Dream job? Alum takes legal expertise to war zone

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Philip Vasquez

Philip Vasquez's Law Center degrees have taken him from Victoria, Texas, to Washington, D.C., and on to the war-torn streets of Kabul, Afghanistan – where he insists he is living "a dream."  In a capital city that reverberates with the suicide bombings and rocket attacks of the Taliban, Vasquez calmly dons body armor and travels via armored car to a heavily guarded compound to perform duties that he sees as vital to the future of Afghanistan. 

As a law student in the 1980s with a background in oil and gas production and land management, Vasquez envisioned working with developing countries to help them tap the true potential of their natural resources.  Today, the Law Center alumnus (J.D. in '87 and LL.M. in '05) is doing just that as senior legal advisor to the Afghanistan Ministry of Mines through International Relief and Development, Inc. The charitable organization is working with USAID and other international agencies to help rebuild Afghanistan's infrastructure and economy.  

Vasquez assists the Ministry of Mines on a variety of legal and policy matters involving energy and natural resources, including planning for ways to develop the country's vast mineral reserves that recent media reports estimated could be valued at more than $1 trillion.  "I am actually living my dream," he writes via e-mail from Kabul.  "And what better place to do it than in a country where the world has placed its collective hope, and where our brave men and women serve."

Vasquez arrived in Kabul in May 2010 and now lives in a "guesthouse," which is about four miles from his office located across the street from the Presidential Palace in the city's fortified "Green Zone."  He works six days a week, marking Juma (Friday) as his only day of rest, which is customary in the Muslim world. His daily "commute" involves a trip in an armored car with an experienced driver at the wheel and a Personal Protection Officer, who is typically a former member of the British Special Forces or a Gurkha from Nepal. Trips to a grocery store or neighborhood restaurant are discouraged for safety reasons, and Vasquez is prohibited from traveling anywhere alone. "These protections keep me as safe as anyone can be here in Kabul," he writes.

Vasquez credits the Law Center with launching him on a career that he deems both successful and exciting.  "My J.D. enabled me to work in Victoria, my hometown, and provide a comfortable life for my family," he writes. "My LL.M. studies in International Economic Law enabled me to become a senior appointee in the Clinton Administration which has continued to open doors for me."

But why would a 55-year-old lawyer with experience in private practice and government service opt to work in a war zone on the other side of the world? Vasquez says the timing was right to continue pursuing his dream.  His two daughters will be heading off to college this fall and his son, a 1st lieutenant and military intelligence officer in the U.S. Army, will be heading to Afghanistan in the near future, "but in an entirely different capacity," he adds.  His email also includes a telling comment: "This may sound hokey, but I only have so long to serve my fellow man."

What does the future hold for this worldly Law Center alumnus?  "No plans yet," Vasquez replies.  "My commitment at the present time is to the rebuilding of Afghanistan."

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