|Veteran Spotlight: Marine Cpl. Keil Did Tour in Afghanistan|
|By Wayne Soares, Special to iBerkshires|
04:24PM / Sunday, January 19, 2020
Keil served in the Marines from 2006 to 2010, including in Helmand Province in Afghanistan.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — This week's featured veteran is a benchmark to his peers and to the younger generation because of his examples of class, integrity and humility.
Mitchell Keil served his country from 2006 to 2010 in the Marine Corps. A graduate of Wahconah Regional High School in Dalton, he was sent to basic training at the famed Parris Island in South Carolina.
"After I graduated, I had two months before I went in. I had a chance to see my family and friends which was great. My parents signed the papers for my induction. If they didn't, I was going to sign them anyway when I turned 18. It was an emotional day," he said, adding he was glad he got to say goodbye to everyone before catching his plane to Boston.
The first days of boot camp were rough — "the drill instructor screams at you on the bus ... they keep you up for a couple of days," Keil said. "You get little power naps ... you're nervous on your way there but after the screaming, I was ready to go!"
After Parris Island, the corporal was sent to Camp Lejeune for Military Occupation Specialty training that entailed Landing Support Specialty, helicopters, organization of beach landings and Departure and Arrival Control Group. He was then sent to Combat Logistics Battalion 24 — an intense six months of Military Expeditionary Forces Training. Keil was deployed to Kandahar, Afghanistan, in the Helmand Province.
"They sent us for specific training from Kandahar to Garmsir. They have 1,100 miles of paved road and we must have gone through 1,000," he remembered. He spoke a bit on being on patrol and driving through Kandahar City.
"It was pretty nerve-wracking ... you hear stories on not knowing who the enemy is ... I still get in funks for what happened in Afghanistan," he said."
He shared one day in particular that is etched in his memory.
"Our convoy was leaving Kandahar around 2:30-3 a.m. and I was a gunner on top of a Humvee in the back. I saw a flash. An IED hit the third vehicle in our convoy ... blew a hole in the road so big we couldn't leave for 18 hours," he recalled.
I asked him if instincts and training kick in with an attack like that and Keil said, "It all kicks in."
Once the improvised explosive device hit the truck, the one behind in the convoy relates what happens.
"We were ready to retaliate," Keil said but they had to wait for the word. "You instantly look at the roster to see who's in the vehicle that got hit."
His night vision goggles were no help and they couldn't see any activity.
"We found out it was some rogue guy who was trying to take out Canadian Special Forces," he said. "He hit us instead."
He also shared a story on being under the constant threat of attack at the base in Kandahar.
"Insurgents would go up on the mountain every 2-3 days ... dig a hole and put a rocket in the ice and aim it at the base. They'd leave it there, and when the ice melted, it detonated the rocket and it fired on our base," he said. "One landed so close, it knocked me off my bed one night ... we were constantly sitting ducks.
"We had three bases that we rotated on. Kandahar and Camp Bastion, you always got hot showers. At FOB (Forward Operating Base) Dwyer, you showered with baby wipes and a canteen."
Despite the incessant pressure, the corporal said morale was high. But he had a very difficult time when he was deployed over Easter.
"It is the only time of the year my whole family gets together ... really missed it ... was very hard," Keil said. "Nobody could get me out of that funk for a couple of days."
I asked Keil his thoughts on being a Marine. He put it into a wonderful perspective: "You will never see more Marines cry than on the last day of boot camp — your graduation — you're full of so much pride."
"That's what I miss the most ... the camaraderie," he said. "I had 25 guys I served with, we were very close ... knew everyone's birthdays, siblings, anniversaries ... man, that's what I miss the most."
After his discharge, Keil attended Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts on the GI Bill and said the faculty and staff were great. He ventured into the North Adams American Legion one day, not knowing what to expect, and was instantly made to feel comfortable by good friend (and former Commander) Dennis St. Pierre.
"He welcomed me genuinely ... introduced me around and got to know my story," he said.
Cpl. Mitch Keil, thank you for your service to our great country.
Veteran Spotlight is a special column by Wayne Soares that will run twice a month. Soares is a motivational speaker and comedian who has frequently entertained the troops overseas with the USO and will be at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam at the end of the month. To recommend a veteran for Soares' column, write to firstname.lastname@example.org.