Back to Iraq

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This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," May 16, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: Iraq may be a democracy, but life over there still isn't easy. So, why would the Colorado state treasurer trade in his nice office, his big desk and his calculator, for a uniform and combat boots? Fifty-year-old Mike Coffman is a reserve in the Marines. He served back in the Gulf War (search) in '91. Next month, he is voluntarily going back to Iraq. His mission: To help build a stable government.

Major Mike Coffman joins us now.

So, Mike, the big question: Here you've got this nice, cushy job as a state treasurer. Why are you putting your life on the line for Iraq?

MIKE COFFMAN, COLORADO STATE TREASURER: Sure. You know, I retired from the Marine Corps Reserve actually 11 years ago. So, I'm going back out of an inactive reservist status. I would say it's more about the character of the Marine Corps than it is about my own individual values. There's just a strong identity I think that people have served in the Corps have towards it. The statement, "Once a Marine, always a Marine" is really valid in this case.

GIBSON: OK, but, Mike, you've done your duty. You did your war.

COFFMAN: That's correct.

GIBSON: You know, you're kind of done, Mike. You're 50. You're the state treasurer of the state of Colorado. You'll all grown up. You're not a 19-year-old who needs to go to Fallujah (search) and protect us. What are you doing, Mike?

COFFMAN: These are really unique circumstances, in that what the Marine Corps has a need for is individuals who had served in the Corps or in the Marine Corps Reserve who have a background in government that can go in a civil affairs capacity — as a part of a civil affairs team — in order to work with Iraqi public officials to move their government forward, so they can have a stable government, and so that we can eventually bring our people home.

GIBSON: All right, let's go back to your job. You're the Colorado state treasure. And, as I recall, that's kind of a big job. Now, were you elected? Are you walking away from your term? Did you resign? What's the deal with your state treasurer job?

COFFMAN: You know, I'm a statewide elected official in Colorado. And what I will be doing is taking an unpaid leave of absence. There will be a state treasurer appointed to serve in my office by the governor while I'm gone, which will be for a period of nine months.

And so, you know, I think it's an honor to serve this country. And I think it's a critical point in Iraq, where we've got to, I think, stabilize that government to move it forward. The insurgency has shifted its focus to make sure that that doesn't happen.

GIBSON: You know, Mike, we're looking at video there taken by our crew with our Ollie North of Operation Matador (search). It's a very, very tough job. As you know, the operation is over today. Somewhere around nine or 10 Marines lost their lives. Marines are always getting in the way someplace where they can get shot.

So, Mike, are you going to be in harm's way or are you going to be back somewhere where other people are shooting and you're doing something else?

COFFMAN: Well, I think anybody in Iraq is in harm's way. And I think working with Iraqi public officials, who are themselves targets, is always a risk. But I'm not going to be a combat leader, like I was in the Gulf War, the first Gulf War, where I'm trying to find the enemy. The enemy may stumble upon me, but it's not my objective to find the enemy, as it is with these brave young Marines who are currently or who were engaged with the enemy in Operation Matador.

GIBSON: Mike Coffman, the state treasurer of Colorado. Mike, good luck. We appreciate you coming on.

COFFMAN: Thank you.

GIBSON: It's good of you to serve your country again. Thanks a lot.

COFFMAN: Looking forward to getting the job done.

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