MARINE CORPS BASE CAMP LEJEUNE, N.C. -- In late February 2005, a 26-year-old Harrisburg, Penn. native deployed to the western part of the Al Anbar province, Iraq with Regimental Combat Team-2, 2nd Marine Division.
One year later, he returned to the U.S. forever changed.
Lance Cpl. Shane S. Keller, a combat photographer with RCT-2, recently came home after a year deployed to Iraq, where he had been supporting Marines and Iraqi Forces during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Keller’s job in Iraq consisted of documenting the security and stabilization operations the RCT conducted for historical, training and intelligence purposes.
The 1999 Red Land High School graduate explained how he felt at the beginning of his tour.
“I expected to be there for a while, and I went there with the mindset that I was going to experience a lot of different things,” Keller explained.
Keller was attached to various infantry units during his year-long deployment, such as 3rd Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment; 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines; 1st and 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalions; and 1st Combat Engineer Battalion.
He spent more than 60 percent of his time in Iraq operating within towns and villages. According to Keller, he witnessed many changes in Iraq while he was there, but none more evident than the abilities of the Iraqi Security Forces and Iraqi Army.
“When I first got out to Iraq, I was only working alongside Marines, but over time, the Iraqi Forces began to be more involved,” Keller explained. “By the time we left, they seemed to be doing a better job than before and they were continuing to improve.”
The Iraqi Forces were not the only ones improving at their jobs. Lance Cpl. Keller explained that he to grew both professionally and personally.
“As a lower-ranking Marine, I still had to make liaison with the different units apart of RCT-2 so that I could get out there and do my job,” he said. “I think that better prepared me to work on my own in the future.”
The 5-foot 4-inch Marine also said he was able to work better with the equipment he is required to carry.
“I’m not a big guy, and I still had to carry my rifle, pistol, camera, flak jacket and helmet in 130 degree weather, so being there definitely got me used to carrying all the gear combat photographers are required to have,” he said.
Keller’s gear came in handy during some close calls in combat. He recalled one event that almost took his life.
“I was in the town of Haqlayniah with 3rd Battalion, 25th Marines when we found a weapons cache inside a house,” Keller explained. “The people that owned the building said that they didn’t know about the weapons and that they rented the building out(to another person).”
The Marines and the owner of the house then traveled in military vehicles to meet with the renter of the house for questioning. When Keller’s vehicle reached an intersection on the way, one of the antennas on the vehicle was caught on a low power line.
Keller stood up in the back of the vehicle to untangle the line, when a rocket- propelled grenade was shot into the building wall about five feet away from him. The blast knocked him back into the vehicle, breaking his camera. Reacting to the attack, Keller assumed the role of a rifleman.
“After the RPG hit, we began taking AK-47 fire from down the road,” Keller explained. “I stood up and Cpl. (Eric) Ely, another combat photographer, and I fired back. We then dismounted the vehicle and began searching the area for the person that shot that RPG. A few minutes later, another RPG was shot and landed about 10 feet away from me. I was lucky to escape from that situation, and it changed my outlook on things in life.”
After returning to Camp Lejeune, Keller explained how a year in a combat zone impacted him and will affect him in the future.
“Being in Iraq for that long helped me learn to be able to do more with less and survive with the bare minimum,” Keller continued as he unpacked his dusty gear. “This experience has taught me the importance of living everyday to the fullest and to never take the little things in life for granted.”