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Two STCL Houston Alumni with Family Roots in Vietnam, India Becoming U.S. Army JAGs

Home Law School News Two STCL Houston Alumni with Family Roots in Vietnam, India Becoming U.S. Army JAGs

South Texas College of Law Houston (STCL Houston) has a proud tradition of alumni joining the Judge Advocate General offices of the U.S. military, and two exceptional  2021 alumni — Mai Pham Bayless and Aby Lukose — are continuing that tradition this year.

The Judge Advocate General’s Corps of the U.S. Army, also known as the U.S. Army JAG Corps, is the military branch’s legal arm.

Mai Pham Bayless ’21

Mai Pham Bayless, a December 2021 graduate of STCL Houston, spent her childhood in Vietnam. When she turned 18, her mom was preparing to study psychology at Sorbonne University in Paris on a scholarship, but the Communist Party declared victory over Saigon, in South Vietnam, in April 1975 — ending her mom’s college dreams and sending the family to the streets with nothing.

“My mom worked hard and was determined to make a good life for our family,” Bayless said. “She built a successful sewing business from the ground up, saving enough money to send both my older brothers and me to the U.S. to study so we could continue the educational dream that was lost to her.”

Bayless moved to the United States at age 21, and she took her studies seriously. With the added challenge of English as a second language, she double-majored in accounting and health care administration at the University of Houston-Clear Lake, earning two bachelor’s degrees in 2010.

She married in 2009 and became a U.S. citizen. After the marriage ended in divorce in 2014, Bayless brought her mom to live with her, and she began at STCL Houston in August 2017.

“My mom and I supported each other throughout my law-school journey,” Bayless said. “I worked full-time during the day and attended law school at night. My mom got her GED and driver’s license, and she earned an associate’s degree from San Jacinto College while I juggled law school and work and she worked part time.”

In December, Bayless graduated from STCL Houston, and in February 2022, she passed the Bar Exam. She was sworn in as a new Texas attorney on May 10 and she plans to become a U.S. Army JAG. She will continue her job as a certified professional medical coder until she leaves Texas for Fort Benning. Bayless is excited about all the progress her family has made since moving to the United States.

“My mom bought her first home last November and has a full-time job as a teacher’s aide taking care of special needs students,” Bayless said. “My older brother is a math professor at Rutger’s University. And I met the love of my life in 2020 while interning for the U.S. Army JAGS Corps in Kansas, Taylor Bayless — an active-duty JAG who worked as Chief of National Security when I was interning at the Legal Assistance Office at the same installation. We fell in love, six feet apart!”

Bayless married in December 2020. “I am so excited to have the opportumity to serve our country and defend our Constitution alongside my husband in the Army!” she said.

She credits several STCL law professors, her excellent classes, the trial advocacy program, the Career Services panels focused on JAG information, and her varied experiences for preparing her for her career move to the Army.

In law school, she was a part-time student senator with the Student Bar Association, vice president of the Asian Pacific American Law Students Association, and assistant article editor for the South Texas Law review. Her service in the community included volunteering with the Texas Legal Services Center and the Equal Justice Center and serving as an English-to-Vietnamese translator.

Bayless’s great-uncle, Ngo Quang Truong, served as a three-star general until the fall of Saigon, and he was known for his leadership, integrity, courage and loyalty to his soldiers. He inspired her to become a JAG.

“I don’t dare think I could achieve the high military honors he did during his lifetime, but I can certainly learn from his leadership example how to serve those who serve our country,” Bayless said. “I believe we must give every worthy pursuit our all because each battle prepares us to win on the next front. My mom is so happy now, and proud, and I want to continue making her proud.”

Bayless begins the U.S. Army Officer Leadership Course at Fort Benning in August 2022.

Aby Lukose ’21

Aby Lukose, a 2021 graduate of STCL Houston, is a native of New York who moved to Houston before high school. He went to the University of Texas at Arlington for undergraduate degrees in criminology and criminal justice, graduating in 2016.

His parents are from a rural village in India and emigrated to the United States in the early 1990s. He recalls hearing relatives share stories about how they survived on a fistful of rice per day. Those humble beginnings served as motivation for Lukose, who decided to pursue a legal career — an unrealized dream of his dad, who sacrificed his own ambitions in order to provide for his family.

Lukose interned at the Law Offices of J. Mathew from 2013 to 2018, where he had the opportunity to assist with a landmark revenge porn case as part of a three-person legal team. “We won half a million dollars for the client,” he said. “At the time it was the first and largest ruling in the country on this issue, and I got to sit at the council table for the ruling and witness how the practice of law can help people who were wronged.”

Lukose got to know the lawyers from his internship, who were STCL Houston alumni, and he noticed they were very comfortable in the courtroom. “I knew I wanted a practical education like theirs that would translate well to my future career,” he said.

Once accepted at South Texas, Lukose excelled. One of his favorite experiences was competing in the Clara Barton Humanitarian Law Competition. “It’s like mock trial for military law,” he said. “We examined operational scenarios based on real events and advised real military officers on what is allowed as far as a military response.”

Lukose served as a research assistant for Professor Geoffrey Corn, providing contributions to his publications in articles published by the U.S. Naval War College and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and textbooks regarding criminal law and national security law. Lukose says he learned a lot from Corn and holds dear the souvenir from the NATO conference in London that the professor gave him as a gift of appreciation.

He gained additional legal experience while completing an internship with Judge Maggie Jaramillo of the 400th District Court. Lukose has publications in his name, too, creating a military law glossary used by STCL Houston students in fall 2020 to obtain honorable discharges for African American soldiers convicted in the 1917 Camp Logan riot.

At STCL Houston, Lukose was selected to be the point of contact for the general council of the Army and senior Pentagon executives during their visit to campus. “Afterward, they wrote me a letter of recommendation on Pentagon letterhead, which helped solidify for me that I was making progress and going down the right path toward becoming a JAG.”

Lukose’s first interaction with veterans was volunteering as a dispatcher during Hurricane Harvey. He joined a makeshift rescue team of former service members and was tasked with dispatching calls to them. “Their selflessness and sense of duty really stood out to me,” he said.

In law school, Lukose began making connections to learn more about the JAG opportunity. With no relatives in the service, Lukose said the networking provided through South Texas helped him have a better understanding of military life. He also visited Fort Hood and  Lackland Airforce Base to shadow JAGs and get to know what day-to-day duties look like.

He also learned that Prof. Corn had not only served as a JAG but had the opportunity to serve in an airborne unit. Lukose hopes to follow in Prof. Corn’s footsteps in this dual role with the Army.

“After all my military law experience and discussions, I knew I was cut out for this,” he said. “Knowing where my family started and how big of a difference this country made in our lives, I want to give back through service to help other families. It feels like my calling.”

Lukose will begin JAG training in January 2023 at Fort Benning.

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