Call of Duty

Seattle litigator John Devlin makes sure the needs of Rangers and their families don’t get overlooked 

Published in 2019 Washington Super Lawyers Magazine — July 2019

In 1989, John Devlin, a member of the Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment, was parachuting into Panama to conduct advance jungle training a few months before the U.S. would invade the country and remove dictator Manuel Noriega from power.

A memory stayed with him. “There was a guy I served with who got wounded on the invasion jump,” Devlin says. He was paralyzed from the waist down. Devlin contributed to a fundraising effort to buy him a modified vehicle so he could drive using only his upper body.

That planted a seed, and in 2003, Devlin, now a class action defense litigator at Lane Powell in Seattle, came up with an idea to help injured Rangers and their loved ones, and the families of Rangers killed on duty.

The 75th Ranger Regiment is divided into three battalions, and the 2nd, south of Seattle at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, was the only one lacking a support foundation. So Devlin and three others created the 2nd Ranger Battalion Assistance Foundation. One of those founders, Ralph Hagler, was a former commander of the 2nd who led Devlin and his unit into Grenada.

On a recent day, Devlin had just written $6,000 worth of checks for members of the 2nd Battalion. How much assistance the foundation offers depends on how much is needed, which can change on any given day. Casualties happen in combat, but they also happen in training, because Rangers train with live ammunition and jump out of planes.

“If a Ranger is wounded, we’ll assist the family in getting to be with him,” says Devlin. “Not everybody can just get on a plane and hop over to Frankfurt [near the largest military hospital outside the U.S.]. We can go months and months, thankfully, without a wounded or killed Ranger.

“The 2nd just had two sergeants die in Afghanistan recently, and there was a funeral for one of them in Texas.” The foundation helped reimburse the costs of getting the soldier’s squad mates and some fellow Rangers down to Texas to honor him.

Sometimes the foundation also lends a hand in circumstances that don’t involve the injury or death of a soldier. “We had a situation where a Ranger’s child was undergoing treatment for cancer. The child’s in a hospital or in facility far away from home, and wouldn’t it be great to not have the mother sleep on the floor of the hospital room? Those are the kind of situations we try to help with.”

The foundation runs on donations. Part of the money comes through a military nonprofit called the Combined Federal Campaign—a service available to federal employees and the veterans community that directs their donations to charities that matter most to them. Nobody involved takes a salary or gets reimbursed for their expenses, Devlin says.

Devlin grew up all over the map—New York, Florida, Kentucky, South Jersey—because his dad, a Vietnam vet, was a football coach for numerous colleges and the Houston Oilers. He went to West Point, graduating in 1985, then entered the Airborne and Ranger schools before joining the 2nd Battalion.

Devlin’s voice has a gruffness that belies his concern for others. “The big takeaway from my time in the 2nd Battalion,” he says, “is the training and mentorship piece. In the military, in general, it’s very important to mentor and train those who are junior to you. I try to use that in the work I do every day now.

“One great thing about the military is that nobody in it does anything for money. Nobody tries to be the best because they are going to get paid more. They become the best because they want to be ready, and just for the sake of doing it.”

In Devlin’s office is a football helmet from his days at West Point. On the wall hang photos from his days as a Ranger, taken in Panama and Fort Bragg and places beyond.

“I’ll always be proud of that,” he says. “If I wasn’t old and beaten up, I’d go back in a second.” 

How to Assist Soldiers and Their Families

2nd Ranger Battalion Assistance Foundation

Army Ranger Lead the Way Fund

The Pointe du Hoc Foundation (serving 2nd Battalion)

Special Operations Warrior Foundation

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