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Sunday, May 1, 2016

'Lady soldiers' from Aurelia serve proudly

Monday, August 25, 2008

Who is that with Mollie Keith? Just kidding. Former Aurelian Mollie recently received a "coin" from, and this photo op with, Gen. David Petraeus, the head of the Military Command in Iraq. Photo contributed
Mollie and Melissa Keith active in Air, Army Guard

Lieutenant Mollie Keith of the Missouri Army National Guard and her younger sister, Airman Melissa Keith of the 185th AIr Guard in Sioux City, both signed up for the Guard when they were in high school in Aurelia, and are now serving active duty. Mollie ( AHS Class of 2000) and Melissa (AHS Class of 2005) are the daughters of Rick and Dee Keith of Aurelia.

Dee Keith says Mollie was "born to be a soldier. She played Army from the time she could walk." Dee said that every day, as a youth, Mollie would line up the neighborhood boys at "headquarters" (aka the Keith garage) and send her men out on their assigned mission for the day (see photo of Mollie's first helmet - considerably lighter than the 30 lb. one she wears today).

Mollie has never had a manner and she was not afraid to take on the guys. She wrestled not only in hig school, but also collegiately, at Missouri Valley College in Marshall, Missouri. She was named the Female Athlete and Student of the Year at Missouri Valley in her senior year. She went on to earn a Master's Degree in Educational Administration from Missouri Valley while serving as a Special Education teacher at Bueker Middle School in Marshall and also serving in the Guard.

Mollie also coaches softball at Bueker, and was also scheduled to coach basketball next fall, but her unit was called to duty. She took command of the National Guard's 1175th Miltary Police Company on September 17, 2007 and had an emotional send-off from her students and fellow teachers at Bueker Middle School on Dec.14, 2007, before heading for training at Fort Dix, New Jersey.

On April 29 (ironically, her birthday) this year, Mollie was deployed to the Middle East, and is now serving in Iraq as a company commander, whose troops have been assigned to train the Iraqi police to assume responsibility in the province of Salah ad Din.

Lady Soldier - Lt. Mollie Keith is shown here with several Iraqi children, who have dubbed her "Lady Soldier." Photo submitted.
Lieutenant Keith says that "changes definitely are not happening quickly, but they are happening," as the Iraqi police "learn by doing " - a policy Lieutenant Keith follows based on her experience as both a student and teacher. She notes that she has three MP Platoons and 9 PTT (Police Transition Team) leaders under her command, and she meets with police chiefs all over Iraq and his PTT leader and/or platoon leader about five times a week to discuss issues, evaluate training and conduct a joint mission with the Iraqi Police and the Military Police.

In the traditionally male-based Iraqi society, the locals didn't know what to make of the blond female authority figure. Though all things take time, of course - as Lieutenant Keith has discovered all too often in Iraq - the Iraqi children have taken to the trained Middle School teacher, and call her "Lady Soldier."

Mollie Keith was training for an Ironman triathlon before she was deployed, and she continues to run daily in Iraq, though it is a shorter run these days, due to the extremely hot conditions in Iraq. I'm sure she will adapt to the conditions as well as she can, because she's one determined "lady soldier" who will lead her troops well in her one year mission in Iraq.

No, the thermometer is NOT broken! In this recent photo, Mollie Keith shows just how hot it can get for our people serving in Iraq. Photo submitted.
When she has completed her tour, Mollie will go back to Bueker Middle School, where she is very well respected by her students, who, perhaps surprisingly in this day and age, took well to her no-nonsense approach to classroom teaching and discipline.

Mollie's sister Melissa and she were not all that close in their school days - not surprising, considering their five-year age difference - but Melissa, who has been at her parents' home in Aurelia this summer, said the two sisters have become very close in recent years, and it is obvious in listening to the younger Keith that she has a great deal of love and respect for her older sister.

Melissa Keith signed up for the Air Guard on her 18th birthday, and after graduating from Aurelia in 2005, attended Coe College in Cedar Rapids for one year. She was "on military orders" during that year, though, and was called to active duty, and stationed on the U.S. - Mexican border from October 2007 - March 2008. She was then stationed in Kyrgyzstan - located in southern Russia - for 43 days, before returning to the 185th in June of this year.

A touch of home Former Aurelia High School classmates Melissa Keith (left) and Leah Fishman (right) attended Airman Leadership School in Knoxville, Tennessee at the same time earlier his summer. Photo submitted.
From June 20 - July 25, Melissa received training at the Airman Leadership School in Knoxville, Tennessee where one of her classmates, ironically enough, was Leah Fishman, daughter of Guy and Polly Fishman from Aurelia. Melissa said she really enjoyed spending time with Leah during their training in Tennessee. In another ironic note, both Leah Fishman and Melissa Keith are former Homecoming Queens at Aurelia High School.

Though neither Rick, who works in Omaha, nor Dee were in the military themselves, both considered enlisting before family responsibilities entered the picture, and there is a long line of military service in both families, including both of Mollie and Melissa's grandfathers, and the family has always considered itself patriotic.

Dee said she has sensed a real feeling of family connection among all of the service people's families of origin, and is also very grateful for the support that her family and friends have shown she and her "girls."

Home is where the heart is - Melissa Keith (left) gives her proud mom, Dee, a hug. Photo by Dan Whitney

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