David E. Grogan

By Paul Wood

Photo By Robin Scholz/The News-Gazette

URBANA — From blasting Somali pirates with Barry Manilow music 24/7 to working with navies from around the world in the Persian Gulf, Capt. David E. Grogan kept busy in his long career.

He retired as a captain in the Navy after serving almost 27 years on active duty as a Navy Judge Advocate, or JAG.

But Grogan, who also advised admirals on nuclear-powered carriers and worked in the Pentagon, has had several careers.

The Cleveland native, 58, started out as a certified public accountant with Arthur Andersen — in the Houston office, but long before the Enron scandal brought it down.

Then, he became a lawyer, a Navy officer and an author.

His current title? Associate director for university compliance in the University of Illinois Ethics and Compliance Office.

But he loves writing, his life’s newest act. Grogan has published two novels, “The Siegel Dispositions” and “Sapphire Pavilion.”

“When I started writing, I made every mistake a brand-new writer could make,” he says.

Now, he has an agent and editors, besides a more experienced hand.

The novels are well-reviewed.

“From a sleepy law practice in Southern Virginia to the streets and back alleys of Ho Chi Minh City to the corridors of the U.S. State Department Grogan’s protagonist — retired Navy JAG Captain Steve Stilwell, manages to piece together a long-buried truth that threatens to destroy him and others,” one reviewer said of “Sapphire Pavilion.”

Because of his background in international law, Grogan works his significant travel and inside government experience into his novels.

Grogan can draw on a lengthy career.

“During my time in the Navy, I lived in Japan, Cuba and Bahrain; I actively contributed to the fight against pirates and international terrorism; I negotiated agreements in capitals around the world and met with royalty throughout the Middle East; I deployed for six months onboard the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Enterprise and launched in planes from the ship underway; and I prosecuted and defended court-martial cases,” he says.

He was commissioned as an ensign in 1986. After Navy justice training, he became a trial and defense counsel serving in Japan in 1988, trying cases in courts-martial. Later, among his duties were advising admirals on international law and treaties.

From 1994 to 1996, he was assigned to Cruiser-Destroyer Group 12. The group rescued refugees in derelict boats from Haiti during a crisis there, and later coordinated international naval efforts in the Mediterranean, Adriatic and Persian Gulf.

In his Bahrain deployment from 2007 to 2008, he was in every Middle Eastern country except Iran, meeting royalty from Bahrain and Saudi Arabia and leaders from other lands, and worked 90-hour weeks advising admirals on highly technical questions.

One of his chief duties involved training military personnel on the niceties of the rules of engagement.

“Force is something to be used judiciously, as a last resort,” he says. “It’s not something you want used by mistake.”

On the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise and other ships in the group, where there were more than 70 planes, he briefed pilots in the ready rooms, and also all the battle group ships at sea.

The rules of engagement have specific situations to dictate when weapons can be fired, except they can always be fired in self-defense.

But in the Bahrain mission, Grogan also trained naval officers from an international coalition — where every nation had a different set of rules.

In the later years of his career, he served as “gatekeeper” for top admirals, having to learn tactics and other skills outside his legal experience.

In his last year, 2014, he served as executive assistant to the Judge Advocate General of the Navy.

He didn’t want to continue to work in the federal government in international law upon his “retirement,” so he ended up at the UI, keeping an eye on compliance with federal and state laws.

Grogan said he was attracted to the UI because its atmosphere “is unusually strong in welcoming people from the military.”

Do you know a veteran who could share a story about military service? Contact staff writer Paul Wood at pwood@news-gazette.com.