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PABLO - Major Patricia Camel Kelly, of Ronan, 53, one of the first tribal members to graduate from the Montana State University School of Nursing, is now treating Iraqi prisoners of war in an Army combat field hospital somewhere in Iraq.

"I just got a letter from her today, written on the first of April. She told me that she's in Iraq, and she is working in a prisoner of war camp," said her husband, retired Master Sgt. Isaac Kelly of Kileen, Texas, in a telephone interview Wednesday.

He talked with her earlier this week, and she is still in the same unit, the 86th Combat Area Hospital, he said. She is safe and sound, and learning more nursing skills, Kelly said. She was deployed to Kuwait on March 14, and arrived in Kuwait by March 21, he said.

He quoted from the letter:

"I am so busy working as a medical surgical nurse and I'm learning a lot. This will make me more confident as a family nurse practitioner. I'm working at a EPW (enemy prisoner of war) camp, and I'm part of the hospital that has grown every day. It will be up to 80 patients before it stops growing," she said.

"I am OK, and I'm as safe as I possibly can be, I'm being careful. I'm here in Iraq and I leave it at that, because I don't want to waste a lot of time discussing that," she said in the letter.

Kelly is of Pend Orielle blood and a member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes. Many of her family live on the Flathead Reservation, including her mother, Alice Camel, a tribal elder; two sons, Richard and Jesse Janssen; and many brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews and grandchildren. A daughter, Kimberly Janssen Garcia, is attending Rutgers University. Her brother, the former light-heavyweight boxing champion Marvin Camel, formerly of Ronan, now lives in Flordia.

Her son Richard Janssen, a CSKT administrator, said he was surprised but not unhappy when his mother accepted a commission as a second lieutenant in the Army in 1987.

"I was a junior in high school, and I thought it was pretty cool. I stayed in Ronan and lived with family. It was something she wanted to do her whole life," Janssen said.

Before joining the Army, Kelly was a community health nurse with the Indian Health Service in St. Ignatius. She received her master's degree in community health nursing from Tulane University and is a certified nurse practitioner.

Her husband said that when she returns from her deployment in Iraq, which may be as long as six months, she plans to apply for a tour of duty in Fort Lewis, Wash., which will last about three years before she can retire from the Army.

"We're going to go out there and finish out her military service, and then come back to the Flathead Reservation," he said.

Camel is one of 36 tribal members from the Flathead Reservation currently on active duty, according to a recent story in the tribal weekly newspaper, Char Koosta News.

Reporter John Stromnes can be reached at 1-800-366-7186 or at jstromnes@missoulian.com

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