Special to washingtonpost.com
Sunday, March 19, 2006 2:04 PM
Michael Kelly, a former active duty soldier, was a student at Catholic University Law School when he signed up for the Army Reserves. "It's not necessarily patriotic. I don't call it patriotic. I was never sold on the war. When the war was building up, I just thought this was the right thing to do."
Kelly was based in Baghdad during his 6-month tour. "I was in the Green Zone before it was the Green Zone. I was there when there was a broken-down Presidential Palace with two guards from the 3rd [Infantry Division] guarding it. Remember that neighborhood behind the palace? We were just out in the middle of this area; there was no protection, no housing. No one in there. We just commandeered 10 houses."
Kelly was tasked with setting up the Humanitarian Assistance Coordination Center, which was established to field complaints and requests from Iraqis. "I would process all these people. I had interpreters sitting beside me. These people would come and tell me their problem. I'd have to find out essentially why are you here, what do you need. Every day, I would talk to at least 30 to 70 Iraqi civilians. I remember one day this guy came in and pulled up his robe and his intestines are hanging out. I'm like, he's walking? I had never seen something like that before. I said, 'What's wrong with you?' They said he was injured. I said, 'You need medical attention.' He said, 'no, I need a job.' He wasn't there for the intestines."
Still, Kelly said he had a "sense of doing something so heady. You're in Iraq, serving your country. It's that sense of pride and accomplishment and sense of history. You're actually there making history."
One thing that shocked Kelly was that soldiers found a way to get alcohol. "Nightly these guys would get drunk and party on. I drank in college, and I don't have a problem with drinking. But my goal was to get out of there alive. Once I got over there, and I realized it wasn't a joke, I just wanted to get home alive. The sex over there was incredible. ... Soldiers sleeping with soldiers, and not just lower enlisted [personnel]. You feel like you can die any moment. You throw morality out the window. I can understand."
Three people from Kelly's unit were killed in the first couple of weeks of his tour, two colonels and a specialist. He knew them, but not personally. Their deaths rattled him. "You just knew it could be you. You felt bad for their family but bottomline, you just knew it could be you."
Kelly said the biggest misperception about Iraq is the belief that Iraqis want what we have. "I'm not sure that's what they want. Personally, I feel Bush is a moron. I don't like anyone to tell me anything in a definite yes or no manner like when Bush tells me we are going to win this war on terror. You just want to say, please stop. Everything looks so black and white from the Bush White House and you get over there and you realize it's not black and white. Whether or not this policy is going to succeed -- no, I don't think so. If it will work out for Bush and his team, great. I would love to see it turn out. At the end of the day, I'd love to eat my words."
-- As told to Washington Post editor Mary Hadar