Daniel Bertsch, Class of '88, is Most Deployed Attorney in ND Guard
Lt. Col. Daniel Bertsch has the notoriety of being the most operationally deployed attorney in the North Dakota National Guard. That simply means he's the most deployed.
Since 2001, Bertsch has been on 15 deployments, ranging from about 90 days to the longest one lasting 14 months. That comes to about 2,700 to 3,000 days of being deployed.
Originally from Hillsboro and the father of four daughters, Bertsch returned from Afghanistan, his most recent deployment, in September.
A member of the N.D. Air National Guard's 119th Wing in Fargo, currently Bertsch is serving in Fargo as staff judge advocate for the N.D. National Guard's Joint Force Headquarters.
Bertsch was in Minot earlier this month to meet with members of the 219th Security Forces Squadron, a N.D. Air Guard unit assigned to Minot Air Force Base.
Bertsch's deployments have included leadership, developing the Rule of Law and mentoring Iraqi and Afghan civilian and military legal personnel.
He said there is no book to follow for mentoring, and to mentor the Afghan military is to try to figure out what their needs are.
The first time he was in Afghanistan he mentored Afghan air force.
Most recently, he mentored the Afghan army, focusing on the judges and particularly with the prosecutors in examing the evidence.
"They would overcharge or they wouldn't charge officers. They'd overcharge enlisted soldiers which is unfair or they'd overcharge the evidence and then they wouldn't come up with any proof," he said.
"Their investigations were horrible so you'd try to improve investigations by getting support so they could get to a site in time. They were heavy on car accidents because their law requires restitution.
But, he said, they would go out months later when they could finally get there and by that time there's no scene anymore. The vehicles had been removed and the evidence was washed away there's no blood on the road or skid marks anymore and the vehicles were hauled away.
"We'd just have a picture of the place where the accident was. It did not show the actual scene but they said that's what the law requires and they said judges will find a way to convict. And they will find a way to convict," he said.
"It's not that they didn't have the skills, it's just that they didn't have logistics. They didn't have the support and sometimes they didn't have the will," he said.
"My biggest challenge was their processes having them examine evidence and just build their character so they had the wherewithall to stand up to corruption," he added.
The average Afghan family pays $168 a year in bribes, but they only have $400 a year in income, he said. He said there's much hoarding going on in the country.
A 32-year member of the National Guard, Bertsch joined the N.D. Air National Guard when he was 17. After graduating from North Dakota State University, Fargo, he went to law school at the University of North Dakota, Grand Forks.
His military career has included several stateside military assignments and also to Italy as a legal adviser for NATO Air Forces in southern Europe. He has also held legal positions with the Cass County and Traill County state's attorney offices.
In Afghanistan, Bertsch observed the fears of the Afghans. "They don't want to be out at night, they don't want to confront the Taliban," he said.
During a previous deployment, he said a bomb went off at his forward operating base. "Some of the people I was training with had a friend that was injured. Two Marines were killed," he said. He said the bomb was in the bazaar on the base. An Afghan soldier wore a suicide vest into the bazaar, aided by an Afghan sergeant major in getting the suicide vest on the base.
In April, he said, nine U.S. mentors were killed across the hall from where he mentored the air corps for a year.
He noted the two military officers who were killed earlier this year after the Koran was burned, were shot from inside a locked facility in the ministry of interior. He went through training with one of the officers.
Bertsch was at Gardez and also Kabul, the capital and largest city in Afghanistan. Both are in eastern Afghanistan.
"In Gardez, the judges were all law trained," he said. "I didn't have access to judges in Kabul because the hearings were at a different site. By the time they told me (of) the hearings I couldn't arrange a convoy."
"At the end of my tour my commander said, 'I ride with the Afghans. If you want to ride with the Afghans it's up to you. You assume the risk.' And I did and I got to see a lot more then," he said.
He described the country, as a whole, as being "very brown and mountainous."
"When you're flying over the country, it depends on the time of the year, up north it's very beautiful the green definitely sticks out. They raise great gardens. Up north they have more agriculture, down in the valleys south they have more agriculture but my impression of where I was is very dreary," he said.
He said Gardez is 8,200 feet so the air was clear, but Kabul is very polluted. "It's surrounded by mountains, it's a very polluted city and then you have the dust come in and it just hovers," he said. If it rains or snows, he said all of a sudden they'd see two or three mountain ranges beyond what they'd normally see, and it was beautiful.
Bertsch was deployed to Iraq in October 2008 as deputy director of the Law and Order Task Force with Multi-National Forces. His organization worked with the Civilian Criminal Court of Iraq. They worked with civilian and investigative judges, and investigators in trying to improve their processes.
The last time Bertsch was in Iraq was in April 2009, returning to the states for only a short time, then going to Afghanistan.
Bertsch isn't sure if he'll be going back to Afghanistan. He was hired in January to return to advise the Rule of Law Advisers in Afghanistan, but the contract is in protest and those currently providing the services have been given an extension through May.
"I would have liked to return to do as much as possible, especially if they're looking at corruption or Rule of Law," he said.