James Heaton, an attorney born and raised in Sidney, has recently accepted a position as Associate General Counsel at the U.S. Department of Defense, Missile Defense Agency in Washington, D.C.
Heaton said he began his legal career in Sidney after graduating from Creighton University in Omaha in 1982. For two years Heaton worked in the family business, Heaton & Heaton, a legal practice in Sidney that has operated for more than 60 years under the direction of Heaton’s grandfather and father, along with Heaton’s uncle, Jim Heaton.
Heaton said he left the practice in 1984 and served active duty in the Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps. He left active duty after 13 years while he was in Germany, where he continued to reside with his wife, Kelly, and three daughters as a government civilian employee.
In 2007, Heaton moved back to the states to work with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Currently, Heaton, his wife and two of his daughters live in Manassas-Bristow, Va. In September 2010, he was assigned to work for the MDA.
“This was originally the Reagan ‘Star Wars’ program,” Heaton said. He added the MDA’s main mission is to defend the country against ballistic missile attacks. He said one of the more notable projects the MDA has worked on was the Patriot missile program.
“It’s an interesting organization with an interesting mission,” Heaton said.
He joked that while the saying “it’s not rocket science” is a term used by citizens in regular society, the MDA has its own special phrase.
“This is rocket science. It’s just amazing what has to happen in a matter of seconds,” he added.
Heaton said the MDA works not only with its home country, but has many ties to areas across the world. Heaton said Japan, Korea and various countries throughout Europe are just a few of the places the MDA works with.
According to Heaton, the MDA has several specialty legal areas, including contracts, international treaties and environmental issues. Heaton said he along with four other attorneys cover everything else, such as labor and employment issues, fiscal problems, personnel affairs and general administration issues.
“My job is mainly focused on the headquarters,” Heaton said.
Heaton said financial help from Congress has kept the MDA mission prominent. He believes the MDA will see continued growth in future years.
“It’s an organization that Congress has fortunately kept well funded. They see the need for it. I think it’s going to continue to grow in importance,” he added.
Heaton is the son of the late Pat Heaton, Jr. and Bertha Heaton of Sidney. His wife Kelly is the daughter of Judy Pohl of Sidney and Gary Lopez of Laramie, Wyo. Two of Heaton’s daughters live in Manassas-Bristow and the third resides in Hohenfels, Germany with her husband and two children.
SOURCE: The Sidney Sun-Telegraph