Vermont Marine Prepares for Return to Iraq

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(Host) Among the first troops to enter Iraq when the war began sixteen months ago was a young Vermont Marine named Asa Keefe. Keefe spent seven months in Iraq, now he’s about to go back.

Recently he sat down with VPR’s Steve Zind and reflected on his war experience and the prospect of returning to Iraq later this month.

(Zind) The 23-year old lance corporal says when the war began, he had some doubts about the Bush administration’s reasons for invading Iraq but he quickly found a reason of his own.

(Keefe) “The first time you pull a little girl out of a closet that she was living in with her family for four or five days, they haven’t had anything to eat, they’ve been beaten. It doesn’t matter what the American people think, it doesn’t matter what the president thinks. Regardless of what’s happened since then, at least that little girl isn’t in that closet anymore.”

(Zind) Keefe says early in the conflict his unit stormed what he believes was an Iraqi prison, freeing families, some with young children, from tiny cells. He remembers the confusion as Marines tried to distinguish friend from foe as people swarmed the prison in search of freed family members.

Keefe is an energetic young man; thin with blonde hair and gray blue eyes. Sitting at the dining room table at his father’s house in Cornwall, he talks at a rapid fire pace, blunt and unselfconscious. Keefe joined the Marines shortly after September 11, 2001. He had lived in New York and says he took the attacks personally. But there was something else. Keefe wanted to test himself in combat.

(Keefe) “I don’t want to be 40, sitting on my porch, and wonder if I could have done it. Wonder if I had what it took to become a Marine, to go to combat.”

(Zind) Keefe says he’s been told his unit will be asked to play the role of policemen when they return to Iraq. He says that’s not what they’re trained for.

(Keefe) “We’re not policemen. That’s not what we do. We blow things up and we kill people. To tell us to go in and do anything other than that is to invite disaster.”

(Zind) Keefe is convinced that the war in Iraq has helped in the war on terrorism. He says he’s witnessed the way children in Iraq look up to the Marines, and he’s believes that relationship is helping to win the battle for young hearts and minds.

(Keefe) “Maybe we’ve influenced a whole group of children who are going to no longer hate Americans or at least have some kind of perspective on Americans.”

(Zind) When it comes to the war, Keefe seems in agreement with the Bush administration on most points. But he says he strongly disagrees with the president on domestic issues and plans to cast his absentee ballot for John Kerry. Keefe says he also feels a greater affinity with Kerry because of the candidate’s experience in combat.

As for his own return to Iraq, Keefe has mixed feelings. He likes combat, but since his return to the U.S. he’s gotten married and he’s painfully aware than not everyone who ships out returns alive.

(Keefe) “Once you realize how finite it is and how easy it disappears, you have different priorities and different values. I can stand in line at McDonalds and wait for my food for ten minutes. If I don’t make that red light, I’ll make the next one. There are guys that are dead and they don’t get to wait in line at McDonalds and they don’t get to sit at red lights.”

(Zind) Asa Keefe ships out to Iraq on August 31.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

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