Imagine if the drive from Cortez to Durango took a week.
Instead of the smooth traverse of U.S. Highway 160, your vehicle crawls through a rugged, roadless desert stirring up thick, powdery dust that turns to caking mud in the rain.
Strafing flash floods, you must endure mortar and machine gun fire raining down from the hills above as you wait for the ever-present threat of a blast from an improvised explosive device beneath your vehicle.
At night, you camp in tents in the extreme temperatures, eating freeze-dried and canned rations sleeping only a few hours before its your turn to man the machine gun.
For U.S. Marine Sgt. Matthew Cox, this was everyday business for a seven-month deployment in the notorious Helmand Province of Afghanistan, where he convoyed critical supplies to U.S. military forward operating bases.
Its pretty much tent living, Cox said during a recent visit to Cortez. Moon dust up to your knees. Think of powdered dirt. Everywhere you step, it just shoots up in your face. ... You breath it constantly. When youre doing logistic patrols and youre not the first one, you cant see where youre going at times. If you get outside the tracks, you get blown up.
The Cortez native and former Panther soccer player graduated from Montezuma-Cortez High School in 2005 and said he joined the U.S. Marines because he wanted to serve his country. He said his uncle, who served in the U.S. Air Force, also influenced him.
He tried to get me to join the Air Force, but I was too stubborn and joined the Marine Corps, Cox said.
Cox underwent boot camp at the Marine Corps Training Depot in San Diego, Calif., training in Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., and combat training at Camp Pendleton, Calif.
In 2007, Cox deployed with the First Battalion, 11th Marines to the Anbar Province of Iraq, where he would serve on combat resupply missions, logistics patrols and prisoner transport missions from the notorious Abu Ghraib prison.
We call them jail breaks, he said. Its kind of funny because we would let people go and they wouldnt even wait. They would just jump out of the back of the truck.
Cox then deployed with Combat Logistics Regiment 15 to Camp Leatherneck Afghanistan. He did resupply missions to forward operating bases and field runs, where he escorted Afghan citizens hired to haul fuel for the U.S. military.
Most of the locals know that were there trying to help them, Cox said. They want their country back. They want to vote and do everything else that we take for granted here.
A Marine for seven years, Cox has only been able to visit his wife and 16-month-old son in Cortez for a few weeks at a time.
He said his deployment has taught him to appreciate what U.S. citizens have, because Afghans have so little.
We take a lot of stuff for granted in this country, he said.So we should just be thankful for what we get.
Reach Reid Wright at email@example.com.