Few are doing the job in Iraq that Cpl. Kelly Kowalsky does.

The 23-year-old is a native of Colver and an intelligence analyst in Fallujah with 3rd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division.

Kowalsky said in an interview via e-mail that while she cannot give details about daily operations for security reasons, Iraqis suspected of wrongdoing often are shocked to see a woman enter their homes as Marines seek for vital information.

“There aren’t many, if any, other girls out here that do what I do, so Iraqis never see it,” she said. “The men sometimes hand things off to the Iraqi women thinking that no one will search them, but then I show up.”

Kowalsky, a 2000 graduate of Central Cambria High School in Ebensburg, enlisted for a five-year hitch and extended her contract six months in order to be a part of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

She is separated but has a 2 year-old daughter, Savanah Rae, who is living with her grandparents, Frank and Judy Becquet-Kowalsky in Atlanta.

“My daughter is the light of my whole life,” Kowalsky said. “It’s for her and her future that I do this job.”

But it is a dangerous job. That fact is not lost on Kowalsky.

Even though she is a woman, she also is a Marine in hostile territory. She has lost comrades.

“I have never been hit with an IED (improvised explosive device), although our Marines deal with them every day,” she said. “We’ve lost a lot of good Marines that way. On various raids, we’ve picked up Iraqis who are doing things that they shouldn’t and we suspect them of being insurgents. If that happens, we detain them and bring them back for interrogation.”

As far as the locals go, they have mixed reactions to seeing a woman in the combat zone.

“Seeing me automatically calms the women and children, making everyone’s job easier,” she said. “Sometimes, though, they expect me to feel more for them. They want to tell me that their husbands are innocent. They want to cry on my shoulder. They want to hold my hands and talk to me.”

While she has compassion for the people, she also has a job to do.

Once her mission is done and if she has time, she thanks those who were cooperative.

“The men are a different story,” she said. “They are very surprised to see me come into their homes. They don’t expect it; that’s the point of my job. If the men are being interrogated and I am around sometimes they won’t talk. Many will not make eye contact with me.”

On the job

The battalion’s intelligence section puts together a “targeting package” that gives information needed on a certain person, home or area.

Once the Marines strike the objective, Kowalsky’s primary job is to go in and deal with the women.

“I search them for weapons, identification, documents or anything else they may have on their person,” she said. “Once they are all cleared, they are segregated for questioning. If they have no information to give, they are guarded and kept in a separate room.”

Another task is to search for documents, photos and weapons.

Kowalsky knew that college wasn’t right for her.

“I can’t sit still and I am a very active person so I considered the military,” she said. “I never considered any other branch than the Marines.”

She said living conditions are tolerable in Iraq.

She shares a 16-foot-by-16-foot room with three roommates.

“We have air conditioning in our room and it’s far better than a tent,” she said. “The temperature here is starting to cool down. It's been only 115 degrees, down from 130 degrees last month.”

Food is prepared by a civilian contracting company, and although it’s the same menu over and over, Kowalsky said it isn’t bad.

She works 12-hour shifts, six days a week.

“They try to make improvements over here, and make our living conditions the best they can,” she said.

During her tour she had one setback. Her appendix ruptured and she had to be evacuated from Fallujah to recuperate.

Kowalsky views most Iraqis as good, hard-working people.

“In some towns, people stand on the street and wave, while in others they spit and throw rocks,” she said. “The insurgency tells the people to believe that we are bad. Many people want us here but cannot express that for fear of being killed.

“We are making a difference here. We are rebuilding cities, helping to train police, training their military.”

Missing home

Being in Iraq for so long, Kowalsky yearns to see her daughter.

“Even one day with her would be wonderful,” she said. “Just seeing her for one day would make me see again the reason that I am over here.”

Kowalsky longs for pizza from Clark Powell’s Restaurant in Ebensburg, beer, swimming and pierogis. Powell’s has closed because of a fire in January.

“I miss seeing grass and the mountains of Pennsylvania,” she said. “Aside from Savannah, the thing I miss most of all is rain. When you live in 130-degree heat, one day with a nice cool rain would be amazing.”

Kowalsky has thought about re-enlisting, but thinks she has more opportunity in civilian life.

“As a female, I can’t do a lot of the things that I want to do in the military,” she said. “I’m going to get out and do them in the private sector.”

She soon will return to Camp Lejeune, N.C., to separate from the Marines.

But her thoughts will be with her comrades.

“In the next five years, I hope the situation with Iraq is over,” she said, “and my fellow Marines can return to their families.”

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