Major General Reinert shares how his legal education helped prepare him for service in the military and establish a fulfilling career in law.
Friday, November 10, 2023

In 1993, Dustin L. Honken murdered five people near Mason City, Iowa, for telling law enforcement about his drug-related activities. He was federally indicted on capital charges for the murders in 2001 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Iowa, located in Cedar Rapids. The Assistant U.S. Attorney who handled the investigation—focused in part on whether the death penalty should apply—was Iowa Law alumnus Patrick J. Reinert (86JD).

In 2003, Hasan K. Akbar, then a U.S. Army sergeant, used hand grenades and a rifle to kill two fellow soldiers and wound 14 others at an Army base in Kuwait as troops were preparing for the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The Army JAG Corps investigator who approved the charges and the capital punishment factors later that year? The very same Pat Reinert.

Reinert played a key role in both of these high-profile, life-and-death cases almost simultaneously—one a military court-martial and the other a civilian trial—exemplifies the extraordinary, decades-long dual career that Reinert has maintained since he earned his law degree. It also highlights the rigorous legal education he obtained at the University of Iowa College of Law.

For more than 30 years, Reinert served as a prosecutor, trial judge, and commander in the Army JAG Corps, rising to the rank of two-star general; he retired in 2018. And he’s been an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Iowa since 1990, still serving today as senior litigation counsel and prosecutor.

Reinert said that the analytical and communication skills he learned at Iowa have prepared him well for his fulfilling and successful career.

“Iowa Law teaches you to think critically, to work through issues, to identify solutions and be very workmanlike in your thinking,” he said. “The critical-thought process that was drilled into us in law school gives you a foundation for communication. If you’ve got a logical foundation that you can use to think through an issue, you can then effectively communicate the logic of it. And if you can logically talk to another person—even if they vehemently disagree with you—you can at least get them to understand your perspective and perhaps modify their behavior.”

As a soldier, Reinert—who was on active duty from 1986 to 1990 and on two other deployments and served the rest of his time in the Army Reserve—did what he was assigned to do, whether it had to do with the law or not. His last assignment, for instance, was as the Commanding General of the 88th Readiness Division, a logistics job. But his most impactful and innovative work in the military was rooted in the legal knowledge he learned at Iowa.

Alum Patrick Reinert in Afganistan
Pictured L-R: Brigadier General Bal Ayar, the former President of Afghanistan Dr. Ghani Ashraf, Senator Lindsey Graham and Major General Patrick Reinert. 

In Afghanistan in 2013 and 2014, Reinert commanded the NATO Rule of Law Field Support Mission, the U.S. Rule of Law Field Force, and the Combined Joint Inter-Agency Task Force 435. These positions required him to think in the abstract about “rule of law” development and what it means for the U.S. military, civilian agencies such as the Departments of State and Justice, and U.S. allies and coalition partners.

He went on to propose and then help implement important structural changes to Afghanistan’s criminal justice system—especially laws and processes related to terrorism—and to write influential journal articles that have shaped both military and civilian understanding of the complex subject of rule of law.

Reinert has loved his career and is grateful to Iowa Law for the solid legal foundation it instilled in him.

“I’ve had an unusually diverse career. I never had a clue that my military career would take the path it did and have the breadth and longevity I’ve enjoyed,” he said. “Folks in both the military and law have a ‘service-toward-others’ attitude. If you have a desire to serve in uniform, go for it. But whatever you do, if you’re passionate about your work, and can serve others using your God-given talents, you’ve found the career sweet spot.”