FALLUJAH, Iraq -- Good grades, an aptitude for soccer and a future career in athletic training were all things Lance Cpl. Brad McKee gave up to pursue other goals half a world away from his beloved Hammond, La., home.
“I joined the Marines to give back to my country, because my country has given so much to me,” stated the 20-year-old infantryman, who currently serves in Iraq with 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment.
“I got good grades in high school,” continued the 2003 St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic High School graduate. “I went to college (Southeastern Louisiana University) for a year, and I had a 3.8 GPA, but I always felt like I had to give something back to my country. When I decided to join the Marines, people said ‘Hey, you’re crazy for joining the military with your almost-perfect grades.”
McKee did not see it that way, however. He put his plans to attend physical therapy school on hold in favor of proceeding to Marine recruit training in May 2004.
Approximately 90 days after coming to Fallujah, McKee and his teammates are seeing the fruits of their labors.
Since his battalion arrived here in mid-March, unit personnel have performed every offensive and humanitarian operation alongside Iraqi soldiers and policemen. It began with four local soldiers who would accompanying the Marines on patrol and has progressed to a few Marines patrolling with 10-man squads of Iraqis.
If McKee and his teammates could not see this sort of progress before, the morning if June 11 would drive the point home.
“Today was the first day I saw them totally coordinate a patrol all on their own,” McKee said. “The (Iraqi Security Forces soldiers planned out the route. All we did was walk with them to supervise.”
Day by day, he added that he sees the Iraqi soldiers working toward manning their own nation’s security affairs.
“They’re doing an excellent job, and they’re getting better everyday,” McKee continued. “On a lot of the patrols I’ve been on, the soldiers have found most of the weapons and improvised explosive devices. Obviously, they know this place and the people better than we do, so they help point out the things we might miss otherwise.”
The soldiers too are seeing marked improvements in their once-embattled city’s security.
“I’m happy to be helping give the people here security,” said Sgt. Falah Saeed Mahalhel, a soldier with the ISF’s 2nd Company, 1st Battalion. “Security has gotten much better here during the past few months. The soldiers and I are happy to work with American forces in doing these missions.”
Fallujah’s own residents have also played a role in the combined forces’ operational success, McKee added.
“The people have helped us out almost as much as the Iraqi army,” he stated. “When we’re setting up a cordon (defensive position), we’ll have kids helping us stop traffic. The other day, a teacher here told us where an IED was.”
Several more months worth of operations await McKee’s Marines, during which they will work long hours underneath Iraq’s scorching sun.
“We’re thankful for all the good people back home who support us by sending their letters and prayers. They’re our motivation,” McKee said.
He continues serving his country alongside his fellow Marines by helping provide security to a now-democratic Iraq.
All the while, McKee looks forward to returning home and enjoying life’s simpler pleasures.
“I don’t think I’m going to stay in (the military), but it has nothing to do with the Marine Corps,” he explained. “I think, after I get out having done maybe three combat tours, I’ll have definitely given something back to my country.”
His quest to make an impact on society will not end with his enlistment, however.
“I’m a very goal-oriented person; that’s one of the reasons I joined the Marines,” McKee said. “I’d like to go back to Louisiana and make a difference there. I’m really into politics, and it’s been on my mind to run for mayor of Hammond, and then someday, be a Louisiana state senator.”
Whatever career path he chooses to walk, McKee said he will always keep his love for family and country in his heart.
“I love my hometown of Hammond, the people and my family back there. I just want to get back there and start a family. I’d love to see my kids go to the same schools I went to.”
For now, he said the mission here remains foremost on his mind.
“I’m having a good time over here, and I think the Marines are doing a good thing. We’re doing this for the people back in America, and I support it one hundred percent.”