LEWISTON — Jared Golden looks like most students on the Bates College campus. The only hint that he’s a war veteran is his military fatigue backpack.

Golden, 27, is a former Marine who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

He grew up in Leeds, graduated in 2001 from Leavitt Area High School.

“Most people thought I should go to college.” So he enrolled at the University of Maine at Farmington. But he didn’t like his parents spending “their hard earned money on something I wasn’t committed to.” And the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks happened, heightening his interest in the military.

He quit college and joined the Marines.

By 2004 he was in Afghanistan, in the mountains on the Pakistan border to help with security, gather intelligence, win the hearts and minds of the people. Despite the fighting, the threat of being blown up or shot, Golden was moved by the country’s beauty.

“On top of that mountainous region, it was unbelievable,” he said. “It was beautiful. That had a positive effect on my outlook of Afghanistan.”

Natives around him were leery. “They weren’t anti-U.S., but they had a lot to lose by helping us,” from the Taliban, local warlords, those who grew opium and marijuana, Golden said.

He was there during that country’s presidential election. One month before the election, President Hamid Karzai came to the area to give a speech. Golden witnessed an assassination attempt when a rocket was fired at Karzai’s helicopter. It missed.

The locals were excited and amazed by the election. A majority turned out to vote.

He left Afghanistan “feeling good about my military experience. I felt I was contributing to something historic.”

Things were different in Iraq. In 2005 and 2006 his unit was involved in “Operation Steel Curtain” in Husaybah, a city where insurgents openly patrolled streets.

Their task was to provide security, “to bring the Sunnis into an atmosphere where they’d be willing to cooperate with elections and be part of the political process.”

Iraq was tough.

Part of his job was meetings with elders. They were happy to see Sadam gone, but said: “‘It’s 2006. What are you still doing here? . . . Are you here to liberate us or occupy us?”

Marines were ordered to constantly strip-search people’s homes, turning homes upside down.

And “there was a civil war developing,” Golden said. “A lot of mortar attacks, roadside bombs, suicide bombs.”

When exposed to combat there’s no room to be afraid, he said. “You get used to it. You’re with everyone you’ve been serving all this time. You’re constantly busy. There’s no down time. There’s no room for not handling it, because everyone’s depending upon everyone.”

Nonmilitary people ask how soldiers are holding up. “People in the military rarely ask themselves that. Everyone’s fine.”

He left Iraq feeling less enthused than Afghanistan.

“The kind of fighting we were subjected to was harder. You don’t know who you’re fighting against. You’re not seeing that you’re making an immediate difference.”

Back in Maine, Golden worked odd jobs in Lewiston-Auburn and planned to go back to college. He applied to Bates, assuming getting accepted “would be a long shot.”

He got in, and is double majoring in history and politics. His graduation date is 2011. Golden is getting tuition help from the Department of Veterans Affairs. He considers himself fortunate. “From growing up in a safe home, to serving my country with truly amazing men . . . to having the chance to study at Bates is just amazing.”

He thinks of Afghanistan often. Golden favors sending more troops. The United States should “help Afghans help themselves,” he said.

After college he’s planning to go back as a civilian, working in conflict resolution, diplomacy or international relations.

Last summer he interned in Afghanistan, teaching at a school in Kabul. He lived without security, without layers of barbed wire and concrete.

While there, a family brought in their daughter. They lived in a region under Taliban control. The family was warned about sending a girl to school. Because she attended school, she had battery acid thrown on her face.

That puts things in perspective, Golden said.

Without help from the United States, “there’d be more kids like her. People wouldn’t resist.”


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