RANCHO CUCAMONGA, Calif. -- Any working mother will tell you that Melia Meichelbock Keller should be tired, and at least little grouchy. After all, she's seven months pregnant and still puts in full-time hours as the California Credit Union League's marketing and communications manager.
And she's pursuing a graduate degree.
And she's actively promoting her new book, In the Company of Soldiers.
And her special ops instructor husband, Sean, is stationed clear across the country, at Fort Bragg in North Carolina.
Despite all this, Keller remains one of those bright, sunny, Energizer Bunny types who waves off her busy schedule as simply fulfilled opportunities. Which makes her the perfect person to interact with Iraqi civilians, lead rebuilding efforts, and advise Iraqi bankers on the how-to's of modern lending practices and community investment philosophies for the U.S. government.
The 33-year-old Keller will complete her eight-year tour of duty with the Army Reserves in May of this year, where she served as a civil affairs sergeant. Like everybody else who's served in the past five years, she was sent to Iraq for a nine-month deployment in 2004.
Before her deployment, Keller researched the experiences of other female soldiers in Iraq, but said she didn't find much. So she kept a journal, as therapy for herself and a potential resource for others.
And, of course, the savvy marketer admitted she recognized an opportunity to fill a niche in the tough publishing market.
Keller's initial experiences in Iraq were straight from the pages of "even Hollywood couldn't make this up." Not only did she draw the unlucky date of Sept. 11 to arrive in Iraq, but, her travel orders were mixed up, and she arrived in Baghdad separated from her unit and without a weapon.
The book is written in journal format, and despite the sobering tales of life in worn-torn Iraq, Soldiers also has some Private Benjamin to it, too. Keller was raised in Southern California, and although she's bold, confident, and independent, she's also a typical city girl, accustomed to weekly pedicures and fancy restaurants.
"Americans have a lot of misconceptions about Iraq," Keller said, "like that all Iraqis hate Americans, or that they're all super religious. In fact, in Baghdad the Iraqi Army even has female soldiers."
Keller said she got along well with the Iraqi people, especially the women.
"It's like anyplace else, there's good people and bad people, but for the most part, the Iraqis are warm and inviting people," she said.
Keller's communication background earned her the civil affairs job, but her credit union background was put to use advising Iraqi banks on how to modernize lending practices and invest in communities through business lending.
"I think Iraq is an excellent place for credit unions, once things calm down a bit," Keller said, noting that new Afghanistan credit unions are doing well, now that the country has stabilized.