After 30 years of decorated military service, U.S. Air Force Colonel and Creighton School of Law graduate Jeff Slagle, JD’89, will retire this year.
His Creighton education laid the foundation for the Council Bluffs, Iowa, and Falls City, Nebraska, native to simultaneously travel the world and uphold the U.S. Code of Military Justice.
“With the Air Force as your client, your service is deeply rewarding,” says Col. Slagle.
He originally studied accounting, but a business law class he took as undergraduate at Peru State College sparked an interest in legal studies, and led him to Creighton, where his mother, Elizabeth “Betty” Slagle, MSEDU’74, and brother, Jay Slagle, BSBA’89, MHSA’00, also attended.
Law school was tough, Slagle remembers, and some of his memorable moments at Creighton include a banking course taught by the late Frances Ryan, as well as courses with professors Eric Pearson and Rodney Shkolnick. In May 1989, Slagle graduated from Creighton University’s School of Law; that August, he married Melissa Wenz; and the following March, Slagle was commissioned as a first lieutenant in the Air Force’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps.The military always appealed to him, both from the portrayals in films and television shows, and the physical aspect of the job. “I was always in sports growing up, and the physical nature of the military practice was part of the draw,” he says. “The discipline and structure seemed to suit me well.”
What followed was a 30-year career that took him on 14 different assignments across the U.S. and around the world. At several duty stations, Slagle held key positions as a legal advisor to Air Force generals, senior executive service members and base commanders.
One of his more memorable assignments was a one-year tour at Al Udeid Air Base near Doha, Qatar. The first seven months of the assignment, he lived in a tent city with more than 5,000 service members. The work was seven days a week, with few opportunities to leave the base. Slagle and his team worked quickly to gather evidence and prosecute a few “young folks” who took advantage of the tent living situation and stole electronics items from their fellow Air Force members. “I don’t take joy in punishing people, but I take immense pride in using the law to help my commanders enforce discipline amongst the troops,” Slagle says of the experience.
During the same deployment, he also appeared in a local Qatari court alongside an interpreter, settling a case of an auto accident that killed an Air Force member.
“Appearing in that court was intimidating as I didn’t understand a word that was spoken, and all eyes were fixed on me, as I looked much different than the others in my military uniform,” he says.
Slagle says his time at Creighton gave him an excellent foundation of knowledge, which he continued to build upon in his career in the Air Force through its strong mentorship and training program. In fact, being a supportive mentor was a key aspect of Slagle’s time in the Air Force.
“I felt a little insecure when I first started, and in hindsight there were things I didn’t know that really would have helped me,” he says. “I also lacked a family background with the military, and I learned some of the customs and courtesies the hard way. To the extent I could, I wanted to help others who may have been in my same position.”
Much to his surprise, several of Slagle’s former mentees from all over the country attended his retirement ceremony on Jan. 17 at Wright Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio.
“That made me feel like I’d made a difference for a few folks,” Slagle says. “Or they just wanted to be sure I was really retiring and moving on.”
Slagle says he also tried to inject fun into the experience, which can be incredibly stressful and demanding on military attorneys and paralegals.
And he definitely succeeded at that, says Rachel Slagle, BA’17, Col. Slagle’s daughter. She can recount several instances where his good-natured sense of humor led to him being nominated to swim in a dunk tank, receive a shaving-cream pie to the face, be on the losing side of a battle with squirt guns and dress like one of Santa’s elves.
When passing down GI Bill educational benefits to Rachel, Creighton’s Office of Military and Veterans Affairs helped the family navigate Veterans Affairs paperwork and Creighton’s Yellow Ribbon program. She was glad to become a third-generation Creighton alumna.
“I’m incredibly proud of my father,” says Rachel. “His hard work, dedication and Creighton education enabled him to serve his country in a substantial way, crafting a distinguished 30-year legal legacy.”
Slagle recommends military service to other law students and young lawyers, noting the vast diversity of practice in the military. For example, in his own career, he’s gained experience in criminal prosecutions, FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests, government contracting, labor law, environmental law and international law.
After he retires, Slagle plans to return to the Omaha metro area to be closer to friends and family, all of whom have been incredibly supportive over the course of his career.
“I owe them so much,” Slagle says. “As military members, we make the choice to serve and we often receive accolades from our fellow citizens. I don’t think our family members receive the appreciation they have earned, as they often bear the burden of repeated moves, family separations and the chaos of starting over in social circles every few years.”
Once he is settled, he intends to get involved with volunteer opportunities, both legal and otherwise.
“I’m excited to see where his passion takes him next,” Rachel says. “Hopefully, he’ll spend time having fun: playing golf, running and cheering on Bluejay basketball.”