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Columbine High graduate fights terror in Iraq

19 Jun 2006 | Cpl. Mark Sixbey

For some, joining the Marine Corps is a dream in itself. For others, it’s a bridge to another career. For one 21-year-old Marine from Littleton, Colo., however, it’s both.

Lance Cpl. Zach Feiler is on his first deployment to Iraq, assigned to 3rd Platoon, I Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, which recently moved its area of operation west from Fallujah to the more volatile city of Habbaniyah.

“We’ve seen more in the last week than in the last five months,” he said.

And that’s exactly why he’s here.

Feiler was a freshman at Columbine High School during the infamous 1999 shooting, in which two students killed 12 others and one teacher before turning their weapons on themselves. He joined the Marine Corps to build up his experience for a career in law enforcement.

“I wanted to help people and maybe pave the way for a career in SWAT to help people out of situations like [Columbine],” Feiler said.

He recalled sitting in his math class when the shooting started.

“Nobody really knew what was going on at the time,” he said. “We thought there was a fire at first. We heard a bunch of rumbling, which was actually a thousand people running down the hallway.” 

A girl pounded on the window and she was crying, and then the fire alarm went off.

The students started filing out of the building until somebody shouted, “They’ve got a gun!”

“That’s when it all sunk in,” he said. “All the phone lines were busy in the city all day long. Everybody tried to call and see if their friends were okay. It was all a kind of  guessing game.”

He said the loss of friends and teachers was a growing and bonding experience for the entire school. Even the distinct social cliques that define high school life meshed together in the wake of disaster.

“Everybody kind of grew up afterwards,” he said. “We were forced to grow up pretty quick, so our class was a lot tighter after that.” 

Feiler played lacrosse for the Columbine Rebels until he graduated in 2002. He was 20 years old when he stepped on the yellow footprints at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego on March 20, 2005.

“I’ve always wanted to join the Marine Corps since I was a kid,” he said. “I got bored of going back and forth to work every day. I didn’t want a normal life. If I didn’t join, I always would have wondered.”

He graduated Camp Pendleton’s School of Infantry October 8, 2005, and spent the next six months building up his experience with patrols, raids, and cordon-and-knock operations, all the while keeping his long-term goals in mind. 

“He cares about his job,” said Cpl. Matthew Goodman, Feiler’s team leader. “He gets the job done when you need him to do it. He doesn’t mess up, which is always good.”

Goodman said Feiler uses his wit to make the best of any situation, whether a long day on patrol or standing security posts late at night.

“He’s got a great sense of humor, makes you laugh all the time,” said Goodman, a 25-year-old from Mesa, Ariz. “He can quote almost every line from ‘Office Space.’”

He said the battalion’s move to their new area of operations makes sense in both the short and long-run.

“It seems like we probably should have been here the whole time, with the way this place is,” Feiler said. “We did some good work in that other AO, but the Iraqi Army pretty much has it. We did our job over there while they recruited, then it’s time to move here.”

Goodman said his whole squad is looking forward to taking the insurgents head-on as they clear the insurgency from the new area.

“They’re all excited to get some action in a different place,” he said. 

The battalion will eventually hand responsibility for security in the area over to another Marine battalion, and more importantly, prepare to eventually pass the responsibility back to the Iraqi government.

“Maybe we can pave the way for the people here to be like us, but we’ve got to get rid of some of the terrorists first,” Feiler said.  

After the Marine Corps, he plans to join the Aurora Police Department in Denver to begin his law enforcement career and live closer to home.

“I really miss Colorado. I didn’t realize how cool it was until I left,” he said. “I want to get back into the mountains and do some snowboarding.”