Thursday, September 04, 2003

"I was less than 1,000 meters from the United Nations headquarters when the bomb went off," Kelleher wrote in an e-mail. "It shook the ground."

The 21-year-old is a member of the 16th Engineer Battalion, which was sent to Kuwait in the middle of May. The unit spent two weeks in Kuwait before moving to the capital of Iraq.

The Aug. 19 attack killed 22 people including Brazilian diplomat Sergio Vieira de Mello, the international body's special representative for Iraq.

"I can't say it changed the way we operated," Kelleher wrote. "We are always at the highest state of alert."

Kelleher enlisted after graduating from Billings High School in 2000, and his four-year tour of duty is set to end in June 2004. He does not plan to re-enlist, but that is not evidence that his experience has left him disillusioned. If anything, the dangerous conditions in Iraq have strengthened his patriotism.

"I am proud to be here serving my country; this is what I enlisted for," Kelleher wrote. "I've always felt that we as Americans are lucky to enjoy the freedom and opportunity that comes with being born here, but freedom isn't free, and Americans paid for it in blood. That is why I serve: to follow in their footsteps and do my part in preserving our freedom."

He is most concerned about his wife, Anne, who is German. They met while he was stationed in Giessen, Germany, and were married Feb. 28, 2003.

"I miss my wife very much," Kelleher wrote. "This deployment is very hard on her. I'd even say harder for her than me."

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