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Judge heads to Iraq as a proud Marine

July 5, 2004 Monday

The Deseret News Publishing Co.
Deseret Morning News (Salt Lake City)

BYLINE: Amy Donaldson Deseret Morning News

Many people express sympathy for the people of Iraq and sincerely hope that the U.S.-led forces will actually be able to help those people rebuild their country and restore their way of life. Some go so far as to donate money, or send food or clothing, while others pray for them daily.

But one Utah woman is offering the people of Iraq something unique -- herself.

Kim Adamson is giving up her job, selling her home and risking her life to go into the most unstable parts of Iraq with the Marine Corps 4th Civil Affairs Group this July as part of Iraqi Freedom II. The more stunning part of her sacrifice to those who don't know her may be that her job was justice court judge for Salt Lake County until she resigned last March to join the 4th CAG.

Adamson doesn't even need to work, let alone risk her life for people she's never met. She is independently wealthy and sits on the Westminster College Alumni Board.

"Honor, courage and commitment," she said referring to the Marine Corps core values. "I want to live those 24/7. They're not just words on a piece of paper."

Her reserve unit will replace the 3rd CAG, which is currently working with the civilians of Iraq on issues such as power, water and roads.

"I've been trying to get in this unit for awhile," she said. "I joined this unit right off of active duty knowing it was going to be deployed."

Her unit will help communities rebuild schools, solve transportation issues and figure out how to get clean water flowing.

"It can be just setting up a soccer match," she said, smiling at home in her Holladay kitchen. "Our goal is to improve the quality of life for the Iraqi people by building up all the infrastructure around them."

Adamson is not afraid to go to Iraq but realizes her assignment will be dangerous.

"I'm excited," she said. "This is my first deployment overseas. . . . I just have a warrior spirit. You've just got to be careful, vigilant."

Her friend for more than 25 years, Sue Bailess, points out that risk is always all around.

"It's risky just stepping outside your door," said Bailess, who met Adamson when they were both working as police officers in the 1970s. "I don't like the fact that she's going, but if I could go I would . . . You look at her from the outside and think she's nuts, but if you know her, you know she's just trying to make sure we live in a safer world. She's devoted to a cause, and she's truly inspiring."

Adamson is not always comfortable talking about her wealth. Growing up she didn't have much money as her father worked as a nuclear scientist. She even qualified for a grant for her first years in college. After she inherited enough money to retire for the rest of her life, she never touched it, living like the other police officers she knew -- in an apartment, and working a part-time job.

Bailess said she had no idea Adamson was affluent until she saw a sports car she owned years after they'd become friends. Then when she got married in the late '70s, Adamson and her now ex-husband began spending some of that money.

The biggest clue to her economic status came when she donated Humvees to the Salt Lake County Sheriff's Office and to the Utah Division of Forestry, which fights wildfires. Her generosity revealed that she wasn't just another working woman.

In fact, when she was interviewing for the job of Justice Court Judge in 1997, she was asked why she wanted to work as a judge when she didn't need to work at all.

"What makes my life any less valuable than anyone else's?" she asked the panel who interviewed her. "My parents were very service-oriented, and I've always been service-oriented. Most people don't know the person inside of me. . . . I've always worked. I need a reason to get up in the morning, too."

Adamson has used that reason to better the lives of those around her.

When she was in college in the early '70s she studied nursing in hopes of joining an Army M.A.S.H. unit or serving on a Navy hospital ship. But the war ended before she graduated, and she changed her mind about how to serve her country.

"When the war ended, I decided to enlist in the Marine reserves," she said. Always pro-military, Adamson said she was drawn to the elite nature of the Marine Corps and loved the challenge of being one of just 2,400 women in the demanding but prestigious organization.

"This is a great country," she said. "People don't realize how much our military provides them with all the freedoms they expect and frankly demand."

She loves her military service for the same reason she loves sitting on the bench in a black robe.

"I see it as an opportunity to make a difference in someone's life," she said, the passion creeping into her soft-spoken demeanor. "My opinion of the justice courts may be different from some. When people come into my court, I immediately put them at ease. Most of those who come before me have never been to court before. They're just decent hard-working people. Then you have the flip side and you deal with those accordingly. . . . I design my sentences so that they can actually accomplish them, unless they consciously choose not to."

When anyone questions why a person of her social and economic stature should opt for a year of active duty, seven months overseas in the very dangerous, desolate deserts of Iraq, she answers without hesitation.

"I have to go," she said matter-of-factly. "I didn't join the Marine Corps so I could have a cushy job. If anything, people in my position probably should serve more than the working-class individual, because they get to enjoy the freedoms and luxuries this country affords us more than those who can't afford them." E-mail: