By Paul Wood
SAVOY — Mortar attacks got to be a daily routine for Erik Coy, a Marine with two deployments to Iraq.
Sgt. Coy, 36, went to Champaign Centennial High School, then started college at Parkland, all the time searching for what to do with his life.
That’s when he was approached by a Marine recruiter.
It was 2000, and he would serve six years in the Marine Reserves — years he remembers for the camaraderie.
Coy was first sent to boot camp in San Diego. The next year, on Sept. 11, he woke up and found out immediately about the terrorist attacks that cost 3,000 lives — and knew where the nation was going to be headed.
“I remember 9/11, getting and thinking: Oh boy, we’re going to be heading out,” he said.
The first of Coy’s deployments, to the Iraq/Kuwait border, was the safer of the two.
It was 2003. President George W. Bush signed the Iraq war resolution in October 2002. The invasion began the next March. Coy was there to see it.
“Right on the border, we could see the tanks lining up. It was unreal,” he recalled.
The first night, they dug in. In Kuwait, that meant little more protection than canvas tents.
But Coy said there wasn’t much danger around his unit.
Not so in his second deployment, from August 2004 to March 2005, mostly at Al-Asad Air Base in western Iraq.
“We started expecting mortar attacks all the time. We had protective gear, but if it happened, it happened,” Coy said.
The camp was under constant attack.
“One morning at a camp, I woke up to two or three mortar shells pretty close to where I’d been sleeping,” he recalled.
One was a mere 50 yards away.
Luckily, he said, it was a dud.
Gun battles also took place around the large base on a daily basis, he said.
After nine months at Al-Asad, he moved on to Fallujah, about 40 miles from Baghdad. Fighting was so intense there that by the end of 2004, 60 percent of the buildings suffered major damage.
His unit worked on fortifications for U.N. troops there, building protective berms and doing other construction work, mainly in the center of the city.
For a time, after taking over control from the 82nd Airborne, the Marines faced running gun battles with insurgents. The Marines were able to use the firefights to test the strength of the insurgents in different sectors.
During one stretch, Coy’s unit worked in an abandoned school.
In his six years in the Marine Reserves, he was able to continue working, when he wasn’t deployed.
Coy is the regional manager for Papa John’s Pizza.
He said the Marine experience was one he’ll never regret.
“I made a lot of friends,” he said. “Once you’re a Marine, you’re always a Marine.”
He belongs to the Marine Corps League.
“My time in the Marines made some of the best memories in my life,” said Coy, who is married, with one child and two stepchildren.
Do you know a veteran who could share a story about military service? Contact Paul Wood at firstname.lastname@example.org.