Austin Booth received the order on Christmas Eve 2014. The Marine Corps captain was being deployed to Kabul, Afghanistan, in July.
He would be leaving behind his wife of about six years, Kristen, and their toddler daughter in Quantico, Va., where Booth practiced law as a Marine Corps attorney.
Booth, a Scott native who graduated from Catholic High School for Boys in Little Rock in 2004, had several thoughts about the deployment, but one in particular stuck out.
"I was thrilled to come simply because I viewed it as another opportunity to maybe repay some dividends for all the people who have invested so much in me," he said. "And to serve my country and to help the guys on the ground the best I can, even if that is from behind a desk."
Booth, 29, spent Christmas Eve 2015 in Afghanistan, about 7,500 miles from home. It's a place he never thought he would go while growing up in Scott.
While that young boy dreamed of serving his country in the Marines, Booth never dreamed of working as an operational law attorney, advising commanders on different aspects of military law.
That is Booth's duty in Afghanistan. He is stationed in a command center in downtown Kabul, near the U.S. Embassy, that oversees Resolute Support Mission, the NATO-led training and counterterrorism mission in Afghanistan.
The hours are long. Booth usually starts work around 8 a.m. in Kabul, which is 10.5 hours ahead of Arkansas this time of year. What follows is a workday that lasts until about 10:30 p.m. Plus, he's on call 24 hours a day.
He is surrounded by troops and personnel from around the world, from the Balkans to Australia.
Booth describes his job as "fairly sensitive." His commanding officer is an Army colonel who serves as senior legal adviser to Gen. John F. Campbell, commander of Resolute Support Mission.
He allows that he looks at proposed operations and advises commanders on how the operations comply with the mission's authority, which is another term for the mission's orders, rules of engagement and tactical guidance.
They are "dynamic situations that happen in real time," Booth added.
He calls the work "very intriguing," as he is expected to provide advice as the situation arises.
But all of this work has only "increased [my] appetite for stress," Booth said.
"There's not another place in the law where I could do what I'm doing right now," he said. "This will give me a good deal of insight into advising commanders in the future because I've seen the ground-level and strategic [sides]."
David Lakin, a public affairs officer with the U.S. Department of Defense based in Kabul, said Booth is "as cool as a cucumber."
It takes a level of sacrifice not found in most people to do what Booth and the others do in Kabul, Lakin said.
"Everybody works together as a team, pulling in the same direction," Lakin said of the personnel serving in Afghanistan. "There's a lot going on, and then there's the challenge of getting enough sleep, getting enough rest. Staying hydrated. Eating properly."
This -- not just serving his country in Afghanistan but the Marines as a whole -- is what Booth has wanted since he can remember.
"I've wanted to be a Marine my entire life," he said. "I wanted to be a Marine long before I wanted to be a lawyer.
"One of the things my parents entrusted upon me from a very early age was the importance of sacrifice. In the Marine Corps we call it placing yourself in a point of friction, a situation where you have the opportunity to be invested in but also to invest and sacrifice for others.
"I knew from an early age kind of the standard that the Marines held themselves to, and I was obviously impressed by that. That's really what planted the seed for the Marine Corps."
A NATURAL FIT
Booth is one of three children of Tom Booth, owner of Riverside Marine in North Little Rock, and Kim Booth, a nurse for Central Arkansas Radiation Therapy Institute in Little Rock.
Working hard was just one of several attributes Tom Booth said he and his wife tried to instill in their children.
"We learn through family that from time to time we have to sacrifice and we have to work hard and struggle," Tom Booth said. "You have to be disciplined and go that extra mile. We tried to teach that to all three of our children. Sometimes we put our own worth aside for family or those who need our help."
The Marines seemed like a natural step for Austin Booth, the oldest of the children, Tom Booth said. Austin Booth always loved to read, especially about the military, and is a lifelong athlete, running cross country and playing basketball in high school.
He was in the Marine Corps JROTC at Catholic High. He wanted to attend the U.S. Naval Academy but childhood asthma medically disqualified him. He pressed on, though.
After high school graduation, Booth attended The Citadel in Charleston, S.C., the only other college he applied to outside of the Naval Academy.
It wasn't until his junior year at The Citadel that Booth seriously started considering law. He enjoyed writing and analysis, and he knew law would appease those passions.
After his 2008 graduation from The Citadel, Booth entered the University of South Carolina's School of Law. While in law school, he started working out with trainees preparing to take the Marines' physical fitness test. When the trainees took the test, Booth did, too, and passed.
"He never really gave up on his dream," Tom Booth said. "It got to come to fruition. ... The family thinks God had him take a detour to The Citadel to meet his wife and then on to the Marine Corps. I'm so proud he never gave up on that dream."
In August 2010, Austin Booth completed the Marine Corps' Officer Commissioning Program. He returned to law school, graduated, passed the bar and reported to active duty with the Marines in August 2011.
On his first day at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island in South Carolina, Booth was handed his initial case. He hadn't even changed out of his pickle-green service uniform.
For the next 10 months he worked as a prosecutor for the Marine Corps before attending The Basic School in Quantico, Va., where every Marine officer is taught to be an officer and a provisional infantry member.
Marine lawyers are not treated any differently there, Booth said. That's when he knew the Marines was home.
"I didn't want to have any different expectations as a lawyer," he said. "I like the fact that we don't wear anything on our chest except our name and the title U.S. Marine."
After that graduation -- Booth was among the top 5 percent of his class -- he received permanent orders to Quantico. That's where he stayed, first as a judge advocate and later again as a prosecutor until he deployed to Afghanistan.
Working long hours in Afghanistan, Booth has little free time. What he does have, he easily fills.
He FaceTimes or talks with his wife and child, who live in Quantico, every few days. The Booths are expecting a second child, another daughter.
He talks with his parents. He goes to the gym once a day if he can. He reads. Sometimes he enjoys a cigar.
And, yes, Booth watches the Arkansas Razorbacks on TV when possible. He says he's the only Razorback fan in the command center, but there are other college football fans, including other SEC football fans, among the soldiers, Marines and other personnel.
"We watch ESPN College Gameday on Saturday night here," he said.
Sometimes he and other football fans stay up into the early morning hours to watch the games.
Booth never thought life would take this boy from Scott into the Marines and around the world.
It's been an experience, but one that will soon be over. Booth will return from his Afghanistan deployment this month. He'll head back to Quantico, where he'll be stationed until this summer.
After that, he's not sure. He might take orders elsewhere. Leaving the Marine Corps is an option. He's got an eye toward private practice or some kind of governmental litigation.
Right now, he's a man from Scott serving his country in Kabul. As for the future? Well, Booth has an idea.
"I'd love to come back home to Arkansas."
His family will welcome him back. Tom and Kim Booth plan to travel to Virginia to greet their returning son. They'll return in February for the birth of their granddaughter.
"He's a hard worker and he takes this job very serious," Tom Booth said. "He's a young man who is incredibly strong in his faith, though. We're incredibly proud of him. We would love to have him home, though. Every time we hear of a bombing over there, it makes you worry.
"He's done good over there."
Tom Booth's birthday is Jan. 11. That's tentatively the day that Austin Booth is scheduled to depart Kabul. That sounds perfect to Tom Booth.
"At this point, I can't imagine a better birthday present than to have him at least be able to start home."
State Desk on 01/02/2016
Print Headline: Afghan stint increases Marine's yen for stress