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Alex Watson, JD'14

Veteran of Afghanistan and Bosnia earns law degree

By Roy Clancy

Motivated by “a lot of idealism,” Alex Watson’s, BA’98/JD’14, 13-year military career began in 1998 at age 23, shortly after earning his BA in Alex Watsonpolitical science (First Class Honours with Distinction).

After parachute and reconnaissance training with the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI), Watson served his first overseas tour in Bosnia in 2000. Soon after, he was the lone Canadian accepted into the elite U.S. Army Ranger School and completed the most extreme training program in the American military, just months before the September 11 attacks.

His PPCLI battalion was deployed to Afghanistan in early 2002, where he played a dual role as liaison officer with “all the warlords and civil officials springing up after the fall of the Taliban” and provided humanitarian aid in the Canadian patrol sector near Kandahar airfield.

He says his political science studies gave him insight into the complexities of the civil and political upheaval and “sympathy for the motivations of people in extreme situations.”

He also credits the writing skills and powers of persuasion learned at the university with helping raise money from what he calls a bunch of crazy schemes to construct eight schools and 18 drinking wells.

After a tour in 2006, Watson returned in 2009 to command an airborne infantry company and mentor an Afghan battalion. In early 2010, his unit comprised the only Canadian soldiers serving under U.S. Marine command in the ground assault on Marjeh in Helmand province, one of the toughest battles of the mission.

“We had to secure a 10 kilometre road, but only advanced 900 metres the first day the resistance was so fierce,” he says. After days of fighting, his battalion seized its objective. The battle cost him his sixth serious concussion after an Afghan soldier discharged a rocket-propelled grenade while Watson was in the backblast area of the weapon.

That brush with mortality prompted him to contemplate future career options. He enrolled in the Faculty of Law in 2011 under the sponsorship of the Canadian Forces. Alex graduated on May 8 and is serving as a lawyer with the Judge Advocate General, which oversees military justice and provides legal advice to the Forces.