When attorney Bryan Achorn goes home on Friday after working all week as a deputy prosecuting attorney, he knows that for at least one weekend a month, he’s not going to get to put on a pair of blue jeans and play with his kids, or do all the things his wife wants him to do.
One weekend a month, Achorn puts on a military uniform and reports for duty as a captain assigned as a military lawyer to the Judge Advocate General’s Office.
“It had been a lifelong desire of mine to be a military officer and I knew that I was getting up there in age and had to make a decision quick,” he said recently.
Unlike “JAG,” the long running television show on CBS that featured David James Elliott and Catherine Bell, Achorn’s duties don’t involve intrigue, car chases, gunfire or exotic locations.
“In my current position, I’m tasked to represent soldiers in front of various boards, various tribunals,” Achorn said. “I handle reduction boards when they allege that a particular soldier has done something inappropriate and they will try to reduce them in rank, or drug boards, where they say a soldier has failed a random drug test and they try to take appropriate action.
“Not criminal things and I need to be clear about that,” he said. “We’re not talking about criminal prosecution. That would potentially be a conflict with my prosecutor’s job. Administrative procedures is what we’re talking about.”
Achorn is a relative newcomer to the military, having made the decision to join the Army National Guard less than two years ago, and it meant several changes in his life, including leaving the law firm of Robinson and Zakrzewski, where he was a partner.
Achorn said at the time he married his wife, Candace, she was a full time student and “financially I could not afford to get out of private practice.”
“Then Mr. (Greg) Robinson made me a partner in the firm, which made it all the more difficult but Mr. Robinson and Mr. (Luke) Zakrzewski are wonderful lawyers and ever better people and dissolving my interest in that partnership was very difficult for me to do because of my strong affinity for them, but ultimately, my life long desire to be in the military over rode that.”
Achorn said his wife graduated and is currently working as a registered nurse at Jefferson Surgery Center, which made it possible for him to pursue his dream of being a military officer.
With the decision made to join the military and leave private practice, Achorn said his wife told him in May, 2010, that she had a present for him, and asked him to come to Jefferson Regional Medical Center, where she was working at the time.
“When I got there, she put these four things in my hand that looked like thermometers but obviously that’s not what they were,” he said. “They were pregnancy tests and I guess this is what being married to a lawyer will do to you. She said ‘they’re pregnancy tests, they’re all positive, there are four different brands, from four different shelves, so you can’t say it was a bad batch.’”
“Despite that, she continued to support me through my military service,” Achorn said. “I left and my daughter (Adalynn) was born on January 2011.”
Achorn also has a step-son, Griffin, that he calls a son.
Although he had arranged for military leave so he could be back in Pine Bluff for the birth, Mother Nature intervened in the form of an ice storm that shut down the entire east coast, as far west as the Dallas airport where Achorn had been scheduled to fly into from Virginia where he was in school.
“I was not there, due to the weather and my military service,” he said. “My wife handled all that very well, is a very strong person, and continued to be strong during my approximately three month absence and never held it against me for not being there. My respect, love and affection for my wife grew astronomically seeing what she was willing to sacrifice to allow me to serve our country.”
He said Candace considers his desire to be in the military a “mid-life crisis and I try to tell her I’m not middle age.”
“I absolutely love it,” he said about his military career. “I went through an approximate four month return to law school, judge advocate general’s school, then went to Fort Benning (Georgia) for approximately two months for the direct commission officer’s course, which is an abbreviated officer candidate school, and graduated from there 18 March, 2011.”
A month after coming back to Pine Bluff, Achorn went back to the prosecutor’s office, where he had worked after graduating from law school until 2004 when he left for the Robinson Law Firm.
“I wanted to go back to the prosecuting attorney’s office and when Mr. (Kyle) Hunter took office, the stars kind of lined up right for me and I was able to return to that office after completing my initial military training.
“Mr. Hunter has been very supportive of me and my military career, “Achorn said. “He knew when he hired me there was a possibility that I would be absent at times due to the military service. He was willing to support the military by giving me a job, allowing me to serve both the State of Arkansas as a deputy prosecutor and through the Arkansas Army National Guard, and the U.S. Government through the U.S. Army.
Having worked as both a deputy prosecutor and a defense attorney, Achorn said he believes that experience “gives me a unique perspective to help determine who should get the benefit of the doubt and who should not.”
“I’m not saying I’m perfect at it,” he said. “I’m just saying that after eight years as a defense attorney, I know all the tricks, I know all the lines, I know all the stunts, and I believe it helps give me a better perspective in the exercise of my prosecutorial discretion in disposing of a case through a plea offer.”
Achorn is currently assigned to the Fifth Division of Circuit Court where his trial partner is attorney Jill Reed.
“She’s a fireball, and often entertaining, but more often than not correct about a how a case should be disposed of,” he said. “It’s been a wonderful experience to work with Ms. Reed on a daily basis.”
Achorn’s father is a veterinarian who had a practice in Pine Bluff for a number of years before selling that practice and semi-retired, but Achorn said working for his father as a young man “definitely taught me what I didn’t want to do.”