Knox firefighter becomes intel analyst

— Melissa Hale-Spencer

KNOX — Jeremy Rue is home in the Hilltowns on R & R. He’s a long way from the deserts of Iraq where he has served as a member of the National Guard and to which he will return.

He’s a specialist in the 642nd Military Intelligence Battalion of the National Guard. He’s part of a unit, mostly from upstate New York.
"These are your friends," he said, describing the closeness of his unit.
"We’ll stay till they let us go home," Rue said, stating it could be six to eight months, or more. "It’s written in Jell-O," he said with a laugh.
In the meantime, Rue said, "I’ve been keeping busy with family and friends and appreciating things like green grass, lilacs, and birds."
But he went on, of the return to Iraq, "You always have that in the back of your mind. Tick-tock. Tick-tock."
Rue said of the unexpected call to an overseas war — not in the traditional scope of Guard duties, "It’s a huge interruption in your life. You think, ‘Is it worth it"’ For me, this would be the best time to do it. I don’t have a wife and kids. I don’t have a career yet."
Rue didn’t sign up to fight in a war, but he was ready to serve once it was declared. "In the long run, it’s still a matter of serving my community and my country and that’s what I signed up for," he said.

"Gratification in service"
Rue will be speaking on Memorial Day at the annual service, held at noon on the Town Hall lawn by the Knox fire department.
A self-described history buff, Rue said, "I love a good story. Truth is always better than fiction." Now he has his own story to tell.

But Rue hasn’t written his speech yet, he told The Enterprise this week. "I’m going to keep it short and sweet, so people can get on to the hot dogs," he said with a self-deprecating laugh.
Rue is a member of the Knox Volunteer Fire Company. He joined in the spring of his junior year at Berne-Knox-Westerlo High School. "I was 17; they had to bend their rules to let me in," he said.

His goal is to be a full-time professional firefighter. In between his National Guard duties, Rue has earned a degree from Schenectady County Community College in fire protection technology.

He was inspired, he said, when he and a high school buddy, Justin Crosier, went to visit Justin’s father, Kevin Crosier, at work one day. Kevin Crosier, Berne’s town supervisor, is an Albany firefighter.
"We stopped by the firehouse and stayed three hours, shooting the shit," he recalled. "After that, I thought about it more and more," he said of a career in firefighting.
"It’s interesting; it’s different and more gratifying that a lot of other jobs. I’m not the kind of person that sits in an office," said Rue. "I like to get my hands dirty."

Similar passions led Rue to sign up for the National Guard during his senior year of high school.

He served as a student senator for four years. His first two years of high school, he was class historian and his last two, he was class president.

In the beginning of his senior year — September of 2000 — he enlisted in the Guard.

That was when service in the National Guard involved helping in troubled spots in the United States, for instance after a hurricane had struck.
"I’m a young guy, physically fit," Rue said. "I wanted to give something back for everything I’d gotten. There’s gratification in that kind of service."
Part of his decision was practical, too. "There are benefits that come from being a veteran," he said. "College is free."

Sept. 11, 2001
"The summer after high school, I left for basic training," Rue recalled.

Early in September of 2001, he arrived in Fort Jackson, S.C.
"You’d hear stories from the older guys, but it wasn’t that bad. There’s still drudgery, and discipline, and getting yelled at," said Rue. He lucked out, though, with "a great pair of drill sergeants," he said, and a bunkmate from Georgia who became a close friend.

When Rue woke on Sept. 11, 2001, the routine was as always.
"Then they told us what happened," said Rue. "At first, everyone thought, they’re doing this just to get us pumped up."
But the terrorists’ attacks were real. Being from New York, Rue was allowed to call home. "It was just relieving to know no one I knew was hurt," he said.
Rue described the mood at Fort Jackson on Sept. 11 as "very sobering."
He said, "Certain people wanted, I guess you’d call it vengeance."

After basic training, Rue went to Arizona for military intelligence school, where he spent four months.
"My initial choice was to be a combat medic," said Rue, who is trained as an emergency medical technician. "My recruiter told me there were no slots for that, which turned out to be a lie."
Rue doesn’t mind his work as an intel analyst, though. He describes his job this way: "It’s like police work; we do what we do to find the bad guys...I take all these bits and pieces and put it together. I get paid to think."

Rue came home that summer and worked and started classes at Schenectady County Community College.

He was then sent to Fort Drum for six months before being shipped out to Kuwait, and then Iraq.
Was he scared" "Most of us were more like, ‘C’mon, let’s get this over with.’ I don’t like transitions," Rue said. "I wanted to get doing my job, to get closer to coming home."

His time in Kuwait was mostly a time of waiting and training, Rue said. On the firing range, he practiced defending himself.
"I grew up in the country," said Rue, explaining he was used to guns.
Asked if it weren’t different, though, to be training to shoot people rather than animals, Rue said, "You’re so ingrained with, ‘Someone’s trying to kill me.’ If it comes down to us or them, there’s no negotiation."
He conceded, though, it’s not an easy transition to make. "I certainly don’t want to kill anybody...You grew up knowing it’s wrong to do that, that killing someone else isn’t morally right. But you realize people are after you or after your family, they don’t understand it’s wrong to do this."

At war
At the end of January, Rue’s unit was sent to Tikrit in Iraq.
"We were in more of a comfortable, luxurious place because the base was a presidential compound...I slept in what they called the boathouse," Rue said. "It’s about twice the size of my house; it was used as a party bungalow."

About 40 people bunked in a room half the size of a gymnasium, he said.

Rue would sleep in the day, working the night shift for 12 or 13 hours at a clip.
"We were tracking where the insurgents are and how to find them," he said. A lot of times, the results of his work were unknown, but sometimes there was satisfaction. "You’d hear they captured someone you’d been tracking," he said.
Asked if his life were ever in danger during his stint in Iraq, Rue answered, "A couple of times." He went on, "You get used to it. It’s just always there; you just go about your day."
Asked if religion became more important to him in the midst of the war, Rue said, "I’m a Unitarian, so yes and no....With the other guys over there, we’d have a lot of religious discussions. We’d talk about how does that play into your beliefs and what you have to do."
During war, Rue said, "You’re dealing with probably the biggest things you’d have to do in your life."
Did such discussions lead to arguments" Debates may be heated, Rue said, but differences weren't permanent. "There’s no getting away from guys you have to be with," he said.
Asked his thoughts about the war protests, Rue said, "We’re aware of them. Watching the news is part of our job...They don’t want us talking to reporters about it...I have my own feelings about the President and the war," Rue said, stressing that he couldn’t comment further.

What was hardest for Rue, he said, was being away from home.
Rue is a fifth-generation Hilltowner. "I live next door to my great-grandmother’s house," he said.
"I grew up surrounded by my Dad’s family. My Mom’s family is just down in Guilderland," he said. "All of a sudden, I’m half-way around the world."
Rue said he took solace in having "a lot of pictures," a weekly phone call home, and receiving e-mail.
"Compared to guys in a foxhole in World War II or in the jungles in Vietnam," he said, "we have a lot of contact with home."

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