AR RAMADI, Iraq -- Kelly P. Baker is proud of his heritage and the fact that he’s continuing his family’s legacy of serving in the Marine Corps during a time of conflict.
Corporal Baker, a 21-year-old from New Town – a city inside Ft. Berthold Indian Reservation in North Dakota – is a third generation Marine and descendant of affiliated Great Plains tribes Mandan, Hidasta and Arikara.
“I’m very proud to be Native American and following in the footsteps of my grandpa and dad,” said Baker during a recent foot patrol in the city here with his fellow Marines. “They were both Marines.”
Baker is a rifleman and team leader with 2nd Squad, 1st Platoon, Company C, 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment. He has spent the past five months in the Al Anbar capital with the infantry battalion conducting security and stabilization operations in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. This is his first deployment to Iraq.
His grandfather, the late Clyde Baker, served as a motor transportation operator in the Marines during World War II and fought in the Battle of Okinawa. His father Hugh Baker served during Vietnam.
“He and my grandpa both got out as corporals,” said Baker.
Baker said he’d planned to join the Corps from an early age. He led an active lifestyle growing up, “playing lots of basketball and running” is how he spent most of his time. “Those are big on the reservation.”
Much of Baker’s inspiration to become a Marine and proudly wear the Eagle, Globe and Anchor came from his father.
“My dad would share stories with me about his time in the Marines,” he said.
The attacks of September 11, 2001 further prompted Baker to enlist and take a stand against terrorism. Upon graduating New Town High School in 2002, he sought out the nearest Marine recruiter and enlisted choosing the infantry military occupational specialty.
“I chose the infantry because, in my opinion, that’s what the Marine Corps is all about – fighting,” he said. “I figured that if I was in the Marine infantry I would deploy right away and get into the fight soon. The war on terrorism is important, and I wanted to be a part of it right away.”
Baker, however, had to wait some time before battling terrorist on Iraq’s urban battlefield.
After graduating from Marine Corps Recruit Training in San Diego and the School of Infantry West at Marine Corp Base Camp Pendleton, Calif., Baker was stationed at Marine Corps Barracks 8th and I in Washington, D.C., for two years.
“I was part of the Parade Four,” he said proudly. “I was the right rifleman.”
Though he wasn’t in the fight, Baker said he enjoyed his time as a member of the Parade Four.
“I loved it. I got to travel a lot nationally and internationally with the Silent Drill Platoon and Drum and Bugle Corps.”
Baker traveled to Paris and Ireland and throughout the West Coast, during which time he had the privilege of meeting several VIPS and play basketball with the Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Mike Hagee.
Baker joined 1st Battalion, 5th Marines last November and got his wish to fight in the Global War on Terrorism when the infantry battalion deployed here in March.
“I feel good about what I’m doing here,” he said. “It may be 120 degrees most days and carrying around all this heavy gear on long missions stinks, but it’s worth the sweat. We’re not only helping free the Iraqi people, but we’re helping keep America and the rest of the world safe. If we can fight the terrorist here in Iraq and not in the States, than that’s good.”
Baker’s family supports his patriotism, but his service worries his mother, Barbara. Justin, her other son, served in the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division and fought the Taliban in Afghanistan from 2001 – 2002.
“That kept her nervous and high strung,” Baker said. “She watched the news a lot and checked the internet and is doing the same while I’m here. Dad is all for it. Mom supports me, too, but is still concerned like most mothers. She’s anxious for this deployment to be over and for me to come home.”
Baker corresponds with his mother and father several times each week through e-mail and phone.
“I tell her not to worry and that I’m serving with Marines who’re here a third time so I’m in good hands,” he said. “I tell her I’m safer here than in California.”
Baker will return to California when his unit finishes its deployment. He plans on finishing his time in the Corps and getting out next year with an honorable discharge to pursue a higher education.
“I plan to attend the University of Marry in Bismarck, N.D., and getting a master’s in social work,” he said. “I’m looking forward to spending time with my family when I get back. They are really important to me.”