When U.S. Army Pfc. Cody Marshall was visiting his grandmother in DeKalb on Sept. 29, he was surprised by the sounds of sirens and motorcycles outside. The ruckus was a surprise welcome-home party organized in part by the Warriors’ Watch Riders.
“My dad told me we were going to my grandma’s to take pictures and I heard sirens, so I thought there was a fire. I looked out and saw all the bikes, so I asked my grandparents what was going on, and then we all went outside,” Marshall recalled. “It was pretty crazy.”
Marshall is used to surprises. He serves with the 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division and just completed a tour of duty in Afghanistan, where he received two Purple Hearts for injuries sustained in combat within a two-month period. He laughed when asked if any dignitaries or celebrities had visited his combat outpost, where temperatures can reach 120 degrees.
“No, not where we were at,” Marshall said. “There is no way they could ever get clearance to go there. It’s not safe enough because the Taliban would see something like that flying in.”
While home on leave last week, Marshall took time from visiting with family and friends to stop by the MidWeek office and talk with reporter Curtis Clegg.
MidWeek: Was it nice to get recognition from the community for your service in the Army?
Cody Marshall: Yes it’s nice, but I got the finger a couple days ago. …I was going to my school and someone flipped me off.
MW: You mentioned that you were going to the recruiting station in DeKalb to give the guys there a hard time. Is that where you enlisted?
CM: Yes, one of the recruiters that got me to join is still here, so I’m going to go over and talk to him and some of the people who have joined the Army. We’re going to do PT (physical training).
MW: Are you going to talk to recruits? Or are they potential recruits?
CM: They are recruits. They’re people who are enlisting but haven’t left for basic (training) yet.
MW: What do you plan to tell them?
CM: It depends on their MOS (Military Occupational Specialty). If they are infantry, I can tell them a lot of stuff. If they’re something else, well – I live in a world where if you aren’t infantry, it doesn’t matter. …I would tell them to study and make sure you learn all your stuff, but no matter how much training you do, it doesn’t prepare you for Afghanistan or any other place you’re going to go to. I would say to keep their head on a swivel and be prepared for anything.
MW: Did you volunteer to be in an Airborne unit?
CM: When I enlisted I got an Airborne contract to go to Airborne school. After I graduated basic, I just went down the road to Fort Benning, Ga. and went to jump school.
MW: Had you parachuted before you enlisted in the Army?
CM: No, not before I went in the Army. I had never even ridden in a plane before my flight to Fort Benning, Ga.
MW: How is Army training different than actual combat?
CM: You don’t really have the land, and you don’t really have the heat or the environment you’re going to be in. As long as you know your battle drills and tactics, you’ll be all right. …Our unit is pretty well-known in Afghanistan. The Taliban calls us “the circle square tribe (because of the unit’s insignia)."
MW: How and when did you decide to join the infantry?
CM: I have been wanting to join the Army since I was very young, 5, maybe. I said, “I want to be a soldier someday.” I think that if you’re going to join the military, you should be a grunt (infantryman) for at least a couple of years before you do anything else. Granted you need your support (troops) but I still think it’s something you should have to do if you join the military.
MW: You have been wounded in combat twice in just a few months. Is that unusual?
CM: No, not anymore, apparently.
MW: Tell me about being wounded the first time.
CM: I wasn’t shot or anything. My buddy stepped on an IED (improvised explosive device). He was standing right next to me and I caught some shrapnel and I got thrown down the road a little bit. My team leader slapped me awake. I still have a couple of scars in my face. My buddy’s legs were blown off, so a shard of his bone hit me in the face and I got a couple pieces of shrapnel in other places.
MW: Did the explosion kill him?
CM: No, he was a double amputee. He lost both his legs. There were people on him immediately tourniqueting his legs, and we called in the medevac. We were very fortunate; every single time we had someone get hurt, we had the birds (helicopters) there within five minutes.
MW: Did you get medevaced too?
CM: No, they sent me to our base and then to another FOB (forward operating base) to throw lights in my eyes and test my hearing. I perforated both my eardrums, so my hearing (is) kind of (bad).
MW: Tell me about being wounded the second time.
CM: I was leading a patrol looking for explosives and IEDs. We follow each other’s footprints, so if the first guy doesn’t step on one, the people behind him shouldn’t either. We were coming up to a five-and-a-half foot wall, and it had a break in it. My team leader told me to go up to the break, and I looked at him and said, “Are you sure?” He told me to go, so I was clearing it because I knew it was a choke point and I knew there had to be an IED in there somewhere. I was clearing it and clearing it, but I didn’t get anything because it was buried too deep and there was not enough metal in it to detect. When I stepped on it, it didn’t go off, but another guy stepped on it and it did. I was on top of the wall trying to get down, and I was just thrown off the wall into a pomegranate orchard full of water.
MW: Were you transported for those injuries?
CM: No, but there were two people who were. My team leader lost his left leg, and he was taken care of immediately. The other guy took some shrapnel in the face and had a pretty good concussion.
MW: Is everyone wearing body armor on patrols?
CM: We have (ballistic) plate carriers, which allow you to breathe a little bit more without having a lot of (stuff) you don’t need. …There is a face (front) plate, and then your side plates and a back plate.
MW: How much does all your gear weight?
CM: The plate carrier is about 30 pounds by itself. The (ammunition) magazines are probably about another 20 pounds, and your helmet and weapon – it’s probably 100 pounds of gear altogether. …At first you carry a lot of water because you aren’t used to the heat, but after about a month in there I was drinking about three bottles of water per patrol. You just get so used to the heat, it doesn’t bother you anymore.
MW: How hot does it get in Afghanistan?
CM: There are points when it can get to 120 or 130 degrees at ground level. It was pretty nuts.
MW: How soon after you were wounded were you back on patrols?
CM: The first time, I spent about two and a half weeks in recovery. I was doing radio guard and that’s about it. I was on brain rest for about two weeks and my back was messed up too, and I was there for about three and a half weeks doing physical therapy. They were about to push this big mission and I didn’t want to miss it, so I went back out. The PA (the chief officer of the medics) told me it was going to hurt no matter what I did, so if I wanted to go out, he wasn’t going to hold me back. So I went out, and a couple weeks later I got hit again.
MW: Have you had close encounters with Taliban troops?
CM: We had a few engagements. After the second IED attack we got ambushed in an open wheat field so we dropped down and started shooting. When we had this one big mission we engaged an awful lot, it was probably every other day. Sometimes when you are on patrol they will take a couple pot shots and run away. …Most of the time they do that, hide and run away. You won’t even see them most of the time, you’ll just hear the rounds going past you. …It’s real guerrilla warfare.
MW: When you were injured, were you able to notify your family?
CM: They didn’t notify my family. I told (my family) that I got hurt and that I was going to be on the cot for a little bit.
MW: Tell me about your unit.
CM: It’s a wartime brigade. It was opened up just for this war and it’s the most-deployed unit in the 82nd (Airborne Division).
MW: Where are you going when you are done with this leave?
CM: I’m going back to Fort Bragg. We get new guys, so we’ll train the new guys and prepare for whatever the next deployment is. I also have some doctor appointments.
MW: Is the Army planning to send you back to Afghanistan?
CM: I’m sure some time they will be deploying us again, but we might get a year off. …I have a four-year contract and my two-year mark is in November. I will get promoted then.
MW: What do you plan to do when you are discharged?
CM: I get out in March 2015 and I’m going to go to NIU. It’s close to home – only about a 15 minute drive. I haven’t decided what I’m majoring in yet but after I get out I’m going to law school and help out a retired major, Amy Hess. She is trying to start a veterans program over by Rock Island. While I’m in college I’m going to join the fire department in Shabbona.
MW: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
CM: I’m not sure. Everyone has their own perspective on why we are over there. It is a good feeling over there because you know you are helping some people, whether or not some people think we should be helping them. It’s still a good feeling knowing, “Hey, I’m keeping this kid safe tonight.” A lot of people over there do like us, and it does show. A lot of Afghanis don’t want Americans to leave Afghanistan.