- A 6'5", 230 lb. Marine in his perfectly tailored dress blue uniform stands at stoic attention; heels together, shoulders back, an unwavering depiction of discipline and strength. We've seen the billboards, posters and commercials of these men and women who confidently describe themselves as "The Few and the Proud". However, this particular Marine is on stage at the 59E59 Theater in Manhattan. The American Junction, AL native Jeff Key
is this Marine performing his one man show, "The Eyes of Babylon."
Key is a Veteran of the 4th Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, a Marine Reserve unit based out of California. While serving as a maintenance and vehicle recovery operator, he and his unit were deployed with the 1st Marine Division in April 2003 during the first stages of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Key's experiences as a Marine during this time had him crossing the Kuwaiti border into Iraqi all the way to the border of Iran. Along the way, typically camped outside small villages or open desert, Key and his brothers witnessed the awesome military power of the United States Military and also human effects of warfare as they set-up camp alongside Iraqi homes and farms. Key and his unit quickly had to educate themselves at being warriors and also diplomats at the same time. Throughout these experiences Key constantly wrote in his journal and documented his experiences through photographs and videos in upholding his strong sense of patriotism and as he beautifully describes, "...defending those who are defenseless."
Key is a Veteran of the 4th Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion. (Courtesy Photo: Jeff Key)
Key's dedication towards defending those who can't defend themselves was forged during his young life as he struggled to come to grips with the fact that he is gay. Coming from the Deep South in Alabama and being instilled with strong Christian values, he found it difficult to balance the contradictory elements of his environment. He describes himself as being a skinny effeminate male in the South during the 1970s and 1980s as not the most comfortable setting to be in. Upon graduating the University of Alabama
with a degree in Theater Performance, Key moved to California to pursue his career as an actor.
Finding a more accepting environment in Southern California, he began to be able to mix the tremendously different environments of his youth and adulthood. Key quickly became a beacon of strength for others as he lived with honesty and openness of his homosexuality while also being a pride filled "good ole boy" from the South. This strengthened Key's patriotism towards a country that has afforded him the freedom to live a fulfilling live. At the age of 32, Key enlisted in the Marine Corps to take his now physically powerful stature and memories of feeling defenseless to defend others. This is the warrior's path; finding balance between brute power, compassion and selflessness.
Key chose not to make his homosexuality the base line description of his character in the Marine Corps. He chose to lead from the front, to uphold the standards of the Corps, to be a brother-in-arms where there would be no doubt that the man to his left and right could count on him. The standards of the ideal Marine were all that he focused on. What Key deep down knew and witnessed on the battlefield was that the bond of brothers in combat can endure almost anything.
The strength of Key's character can't only be defined by the fact that he chose to serve alone but also to serve in an environment that hasn't accepted people of the gay community. What I can say about Jeff Key is that this is a man who has gained a true sense of self by putting himself in dynamically contradictory environments and has come out the other side as a man who still fights for those who can't fight for themselves, loves his country and his Corps.
"The Eyes of Babylon" will be playing at the 59E59 Theater through July 3 and tickets can be purchased at www.theeyesofbabylon.com
, or www.59e59.org
A documentary film about the making of "The Eyes of Babylon" was produced by Showtime
and is titled "Semper Fi."