AUGUSTA — Cody Myers remembers rushing to put on his protective gear, including his helmet. He remembers the “boom” shortly thereafter. He remembers looking around and seeing one of his partners badly injured and remembers noticing his own gloves covered in blood. He remembers not being able to breathe. But he doesn’t remember much else about July 17, 2011.

That was the day Myers, a Cony High School graduate and a military police sergeant in the U.S. Army, was on a mission to provide support to local authorities taking fire north of Fort Shank in Pul-i-Alam, Afghanistan, when his Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle was hit by a rocket propelled grenade, severely injuring him and the rest of his squad.

“After I hurried and put on my helmet, someone said prepare to dismount (exit the vehicle) and then boom!” Myers said Tuesday on the deck overlooking the pool at his mom and stepfather’s house in Augusta. “The only thing that saved my life was that the grenade struck the gurney in the MRAP between me and my buddy.”

Myers woke up shortly after the blast in a daze and quickly realized he was seriously injured after hearing him ask his partner if he was OK.

“My voice was all distorted, so I knew I was hurt, but I told myself not to freak out, because I knew that would make it worse,” he said.

Myers, 29, who graduated from Cony in 2005, recently spent a few days on leave back in Augusta visiting family before he heads out to a new assignment in Hawaii. His wife, Suzanne, said he was happy to be home, even for such a brief period, and they are excited about going to such a beautiful place, especially with their 3-year-old daughter, Addison. But she admitted some concern.

“We’re a little apprehensive about it, but we’re lucky that it’s 2016 and there is FaceTime and Skype and all the other platforms to connect instantly (to family), and we’re lucky to have that,” she said. “Getting used to island life will be an adjustment, but I’ve heard nothing but wonderful things. There are worse places you can live.”

PURPLE HEART

Myers’ vehicle was damaged and it was difficult to breathe because of the fire suppression system, so Myers’ instincts took over. He knew they had to get out of the vehicle so he opened two hatches at the top of the vehicle. When he stuck his head out, all he heard were shots fired, so he re-assessed the situation.

“It was a complex ambush,” he said. “When we got out to the spot where the Afghani National Police said they were under attack, there was nobody there, so my pucker factor went from 0 to 100.”

According to one of his buddies who also survived the attack, Myers was pulling his partner to safety with one hand while firing a machine gun with the other. Myers has no recollection of that, but he does remember seeing several Blackhawk helicopters clearing the enemy forces with hellfire missiles as he was being airlifted to safety.

“My adrenaline was going a million miles an hour, but I knew I had to take control because we had to get to safety,” said Myers, who was wearing an Army-green Under Armour shirt with the word “freedom” on the front during the interview. “Because of our training, I was somewhat prepared for something you could never prepare for.”

The blast caused complete hearing loss in Myers’ left ear and was so strong it reversed the curvature of his spine. Medics and nurses removed shrapnel from his head all the way down to his heels. He spent a month recovering at a medical center in Germany before returning home to the United States.

Myers’ wife said she didn’t believe her husband when he called to tell her he was badly injured in an attack, and she said it was tough being away from him while he was recovering in Germany.

“He would always play jokes about having to stay an extra week in the field or having to do this or that,” Suzanne Myers said. “He called at 4 a.m. and woke me up, and I said sure, but I felt like such a jerk afterward.”

Myers’ sacrifice was recognized when he was awarded a Purple Heart, coincidentally by a general from Maine.

“I’m proud of him, and I’m so impressed by him every day,” said Suzanne Myers, 29, a University of Maine graduate with a degree in marketing and international business. “I’m more proud of the father he is and the man he’s become. He’s served his country more than enough, and I’m proud of the sacrifices he’s made, but I’m more proud when I look at our family as a unit. I don’t have too many words for it, and I don’t really know how to sum it up.”

‘SERVE YOUR COUNTRY’

Myers had wanted to be in the military since he was a little kid growing up in Augusta, so when the Army tried to get him to retire during three different medical reviews, Myers wouldn’t allow it.

“I loved my job too much, so I started training my body to deal with the new curvature in my back,” he said. “I can’t run that much anymore, but I still get the job done.”

Myers re-enlisted and went to Fort Drum, New York, where he has been the last few years. He leaves with his family for Honolulu Monday on a flight from Denver.

“I think we’ll have lots of visitors while we’re in Hawaii, and my wife’s family is planning on coming next year for Christmas,” Myers said.

When he was presented with the assignment in Hawaii by a retention officer, who also happened to be from Maine, he asked what the assignment was and all the officer said was “Cody, you want this job.”

So he accepted without actually knowing what the job is.

“I don’t know what I’m getting myself into, and I don’t really care one way or the other if I get deployed again, but having a family does make me think more about things,” Myers said while Addison enjoyed cotton candy after a swim in the swimming pool.

Myers will be stationed at Fort Shafter, the headquarters of the U.S. Army Pacific command. He’s since learned he’ll either be doing personal security for high-ranking officials, be acting as a department liaison or be sent to a battle command team ready for deployment.

“I joined because I love the United States and want a better future for my family,” Myers said. “You sign up to defend the Constitution of the United States, serve your country and help the welfare of its people.”

Myers has been in the service for about a decade, enlisting in the Maine National Guard in 2006 a year after graduating from high school. His first deployment was to Iraq, and his first day in the Middle East nation was his 21st birthday.

He joined the Army full-time in 2010 and trained in Missouri and Washington state before being deployed to Afghanistan in early 2011. His most recent deployment after he re-enlisted in 2013 was a customs mission to Kandahar, Afghanistan, where he’d check vehicle, cargo and bags without having to leave the base.

“I worry more with each deployment, but it’s not his worry to deal with,” Suzanne Myers said. “He needs to worry about himself and his soldiers. My worry needs to be the farthest thing from his mind.”

As a sergeant and non-commissioned officer, Myers mentors and guides soldiers under his command. He admits that the things he’s seen and experienced overseas, including the RPG attack in Afghanistan five years ago, left him with some post-traumatic stress.

He was reluctant to speak publicly about his experience.

“I never wanted to talk about this or talk about what happened, but my stepdad thought it would help me deal with everything,” the sergeant said. “I want this story to help other soldiers out there who’ve been through things like this.”

 

Jason Pafundi — 621-5663

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Twitter: @jasonpafundiKJ