Reunited in a foreign land: Assistant prosecutor joined by familiar face during tour in war-torn Afghanistan

By Tom Kirvan

Legal News

The news from Afghanistan has been less than uplifting over the past few weeks and months.

The recent downing of a U.S. helicopter, resulting in the loss of 30 American lives. An uptick in roadside bombings. The assassinations of three high-ranking Afghan government officials. And concern that the planned pullout of allied troops will only add to drug trafficking and lawlessness in the country.

In other words, it's not necessarily a fine place to be.

Yet, Lynn Helland, an assistant federal prosecutor who is past the halfway point in his year-long special assignment in Afghanistan for the U.S. Department of Justice, is contemplating an extended stay of duty there.

If he decides to stay another six months beyond his original planned departure date in February 2012, Helland will be in good company. His wife, Cheryl Huckins, an elder care physician in Ann Arbor, will make it a family affair. She recently arrived in the capital of Kabul to be reunited with her husband and to assist with medical responsibilities at the U.S. Embassy.

"Her role will be to be a doc in the health clinic at the embassy," Helland said of his wife. "I'm guessing/hoping that she'll be able to also get involved in helping out at one or more local hospitals."

Helland, a graduate of the University of Michigan and an alum of the U-M Law School, arrived in Afghanistan last winter as part of a U.S. Department of Justice task force working to establish the "rule of law" in the war-ravaged country. His assignment quickly changed to helping curb narcotics trafficking.

He and his wife have a history of working together on good causes, principally on behalf of an orphanage in Sri Lanka that sustained heavy damage during the tsunami of December 2004. Their humanitarian work has included repeated visits to the island nation to offer aid, while also helping organize and assist with fund-raising projects in the U.S. to support the orphanage.

Despite the continued dangers in Afghanistan, Huckins views her work there in a typically positive light.

"I am extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to work at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul for the next six months to a year, as one of the docs in the med unit here," she wrote in an e-mail shortly after her arrival. "I arrived two days ago, and have been impressed by the flowers along the streets, and the level of dust in the air.

"My husband has been here since February 1, working in counter-narcotics, helping the Afghans prosecute drug crimes which fund the insurgency," Huckins added.

Helland, former chief of the Special Prosecution Unit for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Detroit, has agreed to "stay in touch" during his time in Afghanistan, periodically submitting personal reports from foreign soil.

"Our plan is that Cheryl will stay until I leave," Helland wrote in an e-mail. "If I do not extend my tour, that will be the beginning of February (unless my tour gets cut short for some reason). If Cheryl enjoys it here, or finds it sufficiently rewarding, there's a decent chance that I'll extend for up to six months."

Published: Tue, Aug 16, 2011