first published on September 11, 2015 by Funker
Cody Flora, as told to Logan S. Stark
In the first three and a half months of our deployment to Sangin, Afghanistan it seemed like every day you heard about someone else getting shot or blown up. The IED (Improvised explosive device) situation in Sangin was a phenomenon in the worst way imaginable, not only physically but psychologically as well. I couldn’t believe how many IEDs were with us in that town, we literally had to watch every single step we took.
There were a few different types of IEDs that we ran into typically but usually they were either command-wire or pressure plates IEDs. Put simply, command wire IEDs are remotely detonated by a trigger-man watching a patrol and pressure plate IEDs are victim detonated when someone steps on a plate completing a circuit attached to the explosive charge.
After the first time I was blown up all I could think was, “Wow, they finally got me.”
A squad leader in my platoon, Sgt. Jason Amores, was killed on January 20th 2011 by an IED. We didn’t know it then but he would be the last of the 25 killed in action from our unit, the 3rd Battalion 5th Marines. We still had another three months left in our tour and there was no reason to think that the second half of our deployment would be any different from the first. Two days after Sgt. Amores death I found myself thinking about him while on a patrol. He and I were the only Marines in our platoon that went to boot camp on the east coast, Parris Island, South Carolina.
A veteran of OIF he was the type of leader that led from the front, a hard-charging, levelheaded, leader of Marines. He was the type of guy that left a huge impression on a person when you first met him; he was a pure soul who would do anything for his men. From all the Marines in his squad, he was like our older brother, who we all looked up to. Even though he was gone and heavy on our hearts we still had a job to do.
We were about a kilometer north of our patrol base when someone in our patrol thought they spotted another IED, we called up Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) to come disarm it. The triggerman detonated the command wire IED as they approached but somehow none of EOD got hit. It did, however, send a rock spiraling at my head. After that, I had the feeling my ticket had been punched.
It changed throughout our deployment but typically each infantry squad would patrol for two or three days, get a day off and then stand post until it was time to begin the patrol rotation over again. Less than two weeks after getting hit my squad was preparing for a patrol to an area where we always found IEDs. We usually left in the morning for patrols but that day we were getting the junior Marines some experience in leadership positions and left later in the day.
Being a team leader I gave my M-16 and radio to the SAW (Squad Automatic Weapon) gunner and took his machine gun and APOBS pack. APOBS or anti-personnel obstacle breaching system is a string of grenades that is deployed by a rocket to clear minefields, it’s heavy, not something that you want to carry around for hours on end.
We were about two hours into the patrol when a 40lb IED was triggered just to the right of me. The violence of the blast threw me up in the air, spinning me like a helicopter blade. Every Marine behind me said they were sure I was dead due to how hard I hit the wall.
The last thing I remember was my squad leader laughing at me as I readjusted the awkward weight of my pack and machine gun. I awoke to our corpsman trying to start a field tracheotomy on me. He saw that my chest was pulsating but that I wasn’t breathing or conscious, since my mouth was filled with blood and dirt he started making the incision to open an airway. He must have hit a nerve because I woke up after that.
The blast was close enough that it ripped flesh off my right arm. In all, I sustained a collapsed lung, lacerations to my face and shrapnel to the right side of my body. Later I would be diagnosed with traumatic brain injury. It took me a month and a half to recover from my wounds.I still have fragments of rock in the cartilage of my right ear.
I returned to the States on February 6, 2011, the day the Steelers played the Packers for Super Bowl XLV. It was bitter sweet to be home. It’s difficult knowing your boys are still over there hooking and jabbing while you’re recovering in the hospital. In a way, part of me still felt like I was in Afghanistan.
Lima Company was the last of 3/5 to return to the states in April 2011. I had just finished a month of leave at home in Pennsylvania and drove to California to see them return to base. Driving solo cross-country gave me time to try to comprehend what I had gone through in the last six months. Driving across our beautiful country, thinking about the guys that are no longer with us, my buddies who are missing limbs, and the beloved families of these courageous men that have to endure the consequences of war, all I can say is it was one of the best days of my life to see them home and safe.
Now when it comes to cognitive functioning and remembering, it’s tough. It takes me twice as long to learn something new. I have to write stuff down now because I can’t remember. It’s weird noticing changes in yourself—the little subtleties, like when you realize something takes you longer than it did before.
I don’t want to say Sangin was a blessed curse, but in some ways it kind of did some good. I realize life could be so much worse. People gripe about their problems but after going over there you understand how good you truly have it. I couldn’t be more blessed. I’m lucky to be alive. I know so many people who don’t have their legs—parents who don’t have their sons—and yet, here I am. After you go through that you realize there isn’t much you can’t do.
I wasn’t supposed to make it back alive, but the Lord gave me another chance. With that second chance, I feel that I have come full circle. I see life from a whole new perspective. That being said, He spared my life for a reason. That there are people out there I need to help and reach out to. I am pursuing a path to become a minister of God. I owe the Father and the Son, my whole life. Because of what He has blessed me with I know it’s my time to start giving back to the world. How am I going to do that? I don’t exactly know yet, but in my heart, I feel like this is the first step of helping people, by knowing the Lord, himself.
Lastly, I’ve never asked for much, from anybody. Whether that would be the Lord, my Marines, my family or friends, but at the end of the day all I ever ask for, is an honest life. 25, tough and very difficult years are behind me now, and through His grace and love, I am now on that honest path of life.