At 21 years old, Kevin Furey would be among the youngest members of the Montana House of Representatives, should he be elected in November. Furey, a Missoula resident who grew up in Bonner, has recently returned from a tour of duty in Iraq, and drove to Helena with his father on Thursday, Feb. 5, to file his candidacy as a Democratic contender to represent District 91, which includes East Missoula, Bonner and Clinton. Furey could have just faxed his application to Secretary of State Bob Brown’s office, but the trip to Helena allowed for some picture-taking. This is, after all, his first campaign, and he’s clearly excited about bringing a youthful enthusiasm to state politics, as embodied by his slogan, “Bring the Furey.” Montana’s Democratic party leadership wasn’t too thrilled by that catch-phrase, Furey says, but he kept it nonetheless. Such strength of principle shows frequently in Furey, a UM double-major in political science and environmental studies and an ROTC cadet who discusses his recent stint in Iraq with the utmost candor.
“I don’t think we should have been over there, frankly. The U.N. inspections were working. If we were going to go against every single despot in the world, we’d be going to war constantly. And I don’t think that’s the way to wage foreign policy,” he says.
Furey has several thoughts on why he was sent to Iraq in the first place.
“One is oil,” he says. “I like to think that’s not the reason, though. I guess it could be democracy, and that’s actually a valid reason. I don’t think a little nation-building is such a bad thing.”
He also speculates that war-profiteering on the part of corporations such as Halliburton and Bechtel may have been a driving force behind the decision to go to war.
In Iraq, Furey served under the 3rd Army Division’s 3rd Theater Area Movement Control (TAMC). His daily travels took him from An Nasirya to Al Fallujah, Balad and other Iraqi destinations. His unit’s job was highway management—ensuring Army jeeps had operational GPS systems and so knew where they were, geographically. Because the computers didn’t break down, however, Furey says that there was little for him to do, a situation he says is common amongst Americans in occupied Iraq.
“There are a lot of soldiers not doing much at all over there. You don’t see that on the news because it’s not exciting,” he says.
Furey hopes that he and other returning troops will be able to clear up misconceptions that he feels many Americans have about Iraq.
“What people need to know is that the Iraqis don’t hate us,” he says. “They may be having a difficult time right now with guerilla insurgencies, but they don’t hate Christianity or America. Some are happy with the invasion and some are not, but they’re working with it and just trying to make do with what they have.”
Asked about troop morale, Furey says most soliders in Iraq are frustrated, partially because there are so many shifting rationales as to why they are there. Another problem, Furey says, was President Bush’s “Mission accomplished” flight-deck moment.
“There was a bit of a misconception,” Furey says. “Some people in my unit thought he was declaring the war actually over. Several had contracts with the reserves that had expired, but had to stay because of what the contract said, something like, ‘In case of war, your contract expires six months after the war is declared over.’ So they were getting all excited, thinking, ‘Oh yeah, the war is over. Now I can go home in six months.’ I was like, ‘The war is over—what are you talking about? Mission accomplished? That doesn’t mean anything.’”
Still, Furey carried out his orders.
“I took the oath, even if I did disagree,” he says.
Kevin Furey considers himself lucky. He managed to return to Missoula without having faced hostile fire, and is now ready to buy a condo with his girlfriend of one year. The time in Iraq gave Furey an opportunity to think about what he’d like to do with his life, and the result of that thinking is his House campaign. And as with Iraq, Furey has some clearly defined ideas when it comes to Montana, including axing deregulation.
“We also need to focus more on small businesses and on funding health insurance,” Furey says. “Another big thing is education. If we don’t invest in the future of Montana, there will be no future of Montana. In Missoula County alone, the public schools are cutting, what, three million dollars? That’s not a good sign. Now they’re going to cut the swimming program at Big Sky and Hellgate, and those programs are the best in the state. That tells me that something needs to be changed or else when I have kids, Montana isn’t going to be the kind of place we want it to be.”
Furey knows first-hand about many programs on the chopping-block, as he swam at Hellgate High School not long ago, between sessions of debate club and playing trumpet and tuba in numerous school bands. He’s also learned that the changes he desires won’t happen overnight, an acknowledgement rarely found in a 21-year-old, and a patience for which he credits his long hours in Iraq.
“I used to think government was about going in and changing things right away,” he says. “Now I realize that you have to have patience for the people you work with, even when you disagree with them.”
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