Carroll County Times

Taneytown resident returns from Afghanistan


Inside an Afghan compound, Kodey Livesay's camouflage helmet covered his blond hair, a strap swooped around the neck of his boyish face, as he loaded a 60 mm mortar bomb into a tube.

It was two days into a mission. Food and water supplies had just been dropped into the dirt compound that housed the troops; a wall provided a bit of seclusion from a dirt trail that led to a village.

Suddenly, the Taliban started shooting. Livesay, a Taneytown resident, and his unit reacted.

That's how days could go - could being the operative word. In Afghanistan, there's no set daily routine. A day, a life, can be altered without warning.

Back in Taneytown, nearly 7,000 miles away from the fighting, Ken Livesay would hear from his son when he was at an established base in Afghanistan. But on a mission, which could last weeks on end, there was no contact.

"It's tough, real tough, especially knowing what he was doing," Livesay said. "It's not like he was a supply guy. He [was] out in the middle of it, fighting."

On Sept. 8, 19-year-old Kodey Livesay returned from Afghanistan and, on Sept. 27, headed back to Taneytown for a two-week reprieve with his family. He completed his eight-month tour and his deployment in Afghanistan was over.

A large flagpole bearing an American flag sits in his yard, a sign "Welcome Home, Kodey" flanks the house's exterior.

Around the nation, other families have similar displays as thousands return home this year to reach President Barack Obama's goal of fully withdrawing from the war by 2014.

"It's nice to be home, but it's kind of hard to explain," Kodey said. "I don't know how to explain it ..."

"But you miss the excitement," his dad, Ken, said, finishing Kodey's thought.

Ken knows how it goes. The Livesays are an American military family. Ken fought in the Gulf War, his father in WWII, his great-grandfather in WWI and relatives on both sides of the Civil War.

At home, Kodey uses his cellphone at his leisure. He surfs the Internet whenever he likes. When to go to bed, wake up, visit friends, watch TV, eat, drink, shower - those are minute decisions he controls. Though for nearly two years, that power wasn't his.

September 1, 2010, was the day he submitted that control over to the United States Army. It was the day he left for Fort Benning in Georgia for basic training.

"You do what they tell you at the times they tell you," he said, "and they build you up to what they need you to be: a soldier."

Wake up at 5:30 a.m. And from then on?

"It's always a surprise, you never know," Kodey Livesay said. "It's ordered chaos, pretty much."

Sometimes, he'd be doing push-ups or squats for hours on end. Or army crawling through dirt trenches. Or walking for miles and miles on end, carrying a backpack atop a long-sleeve camouflage uniform.

Eights weeks later, he went to infantry school to learn marksmanship tactics, how to move as one with his unit and more. A picture shows Kodey holding up one finger, signifying he was the No. 1 marksman in his unit.

Next it was airborne school for three weeks, where he parachuted out of a plane five times to get his wings.

"It's so loud inside the plane, and it's loud jumping out of the plane," he said. "Once you got your chute out, it's quiet, beautiful."

Then Kodey was sent to Fort Bragg in North Carolina for even more training. It was there he met the comrades that comprised Alpha Troop 4-73. It was there he received an official paper that said Kodey will deploy to Afghanistan on Jan. 28, 2012.

He flew to Germany and then to Kazakhstan before stepping foot on Afghan soil, his home for the next eight months.

"Well, this place is a craphole," he thought.

But he met some of the people who tilled that rugged soil. And, Livesay said, many of them thanked him and his troops for being there.

"They were saying, 'we're so happy that you're here. We hate the Taliban ... they kill our children,'" Kodey said. "A lot of the people over there were very willing to help us and very happy that we were there."

On most of Kodey's missions, he and Alpha Troop 4-73 tried to push the Taliban out of the area, he said. Their goal was to allow the repressed Afghan people to walk freely out of their homes without fear they'd be killed, according to Kodey.

Sometimes, fighting broke out. Sometimes, that meant casualties. The first time his troop was involved in a gunfire exchange, two of his buddies - as Livesay refers to them - died.

"We were all just sitting there, and all of a sudden it broke out. When the bullets hit something they make this crack, cracking," his hands made small, quick motions near his ears, "trying to run for cover and the bullets whizzing by you."

They were hitting the walls next to Kodey. Two feet from Kodey. There were explosions all around.

"Two of my buddies were shot; seeing that was kind of," his blue eyes widened; he didn't need to finish the sentence.

Alpha Troop 4-73 lost a lot of men, Ken said.

Their tour was extended a month because the soldiers were good at their job, Ken said. And although Kodey leaves again for Fort Bragg Sunday, his deployment overseas is done - for now.

Will he make a career out of the military? Will he end up going overseas sometime in the future?

He doesn't know. But the Arabic word for "infidel" is written on his arm in ink, and to him and some of his comrades, that word refers to the Taliban. The Quran says "death to all infidels," Kodey said. Fastened around his wrist is a black bracelet bearing the name "PFC Johnathan Davis," a friend who died in combat.

Kodey will carry those markers of his eight-month deployment wherever he goes, for the rest of his life.