Student Spotlight: Student Veteran Writes Memoir About Serving in Afghanistan

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The Student Spotlight section was created to celebrate student success outside academia, and this issue is certainly no exception.  In fact, this issue’s celebrant got his bachelor’s degree, was an officer in the Marines, fought in Afghanistan using a new counter-insurgency concept, published a book, and now is back for graduate school.

Mark Bodrog served as an officer in the United States Marine Corps.  Before that, he grew up in the local area and attended Rutgers-Camden to get his degree in Criminal Justice.  Sometime during his undergraduate career Mark decided to he wanted to do more with his life – so he planned to join the military after graduation.

After becoming an officer, he went to Afghanistan to lead troops on combat missions using a new concept for counterinsurgency.   When he got back Mark wrote a book called Second Platoon:  Call Sign Hades that was recently published.   He emphasizes that his memoir is about telling his Marines story, not his own.  Now Mark is back at Rutgers for a graduate degree in Criminal Justice.

Tell me a little about yourself:  My name is Mark Anthony Bodrog, I was a 1st Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps.  I joined January 2008 and went through Officer Candidate School (OCS). I then went through about a year and a half of military schooling prior to even getting into the Marine Corps.   From there, in November 2009 I graduated IOC and moved to a Marine Corps base in Hawaii.  I was attached to 3rd Battalion 3rd Marines.  I did a successful deployment as a platoon commander with 3/3 from May 2010 to December 2010.  Once I came back, I was made a weapons platoon commander.  From there I became an assistant operations officer – I ran over 1,100 operations Marines, Soldiers, Sailors, and civilians in the battalion.  After I did pretty good conduct there, I was made an executive officer where I was in charge of a company.  From there I deployed a second time in the Helmand Province in Afghanistan from October 2011 to May 2012.  Upon redeployment and successful combat operations I was made a company commander for the same company which I was a part of.  End of active service was in November 2012.  My personal awards include letter of appreciation, a certificate of commendation, the Navy and Marine Corps achievement medal, the Navy and Marine Corps commendation medal, the combat action ribbon, the sea service deployment ribbon, the navy meritorious unit commendation medal, the NATO medal-ISAF Afghanistan, the global war on terrorism service medal, the Navy unit commendation, two Afghanistan campaign medals and the national defense service medal

Where did you grow up?  I was born in Roebling, NJ, which has very historic roots.  I’ve lived in New Jersey most of my life.  Eventually moved to Mount Laurel and attended Lenape High School.  After that I came here to Rutgers-Camden to pursue a bachelor in criminal justice.  Upon graduation I joined the military.  I did not do ROTC, oddly enough I was pretty much the opposite of what you would expect a typical military guy to be, but I wasn’t a real liberal guy either though.  I was pretty lax.  It wasn’t until my junior year in college that started to wake up and see the value of the military.  I wanted to do more with my life.

You didn’t go into college thinking about the military?  Correct.  My great-grandfather was in WWI, my grandfather was in WWII, my other grandfather was in the Korean War, and my father was a Marine but my family never pushed me to join the military.  I guess it was just something in my blood or genetic code that pushed me to join.

Why the Marines?  Because the Marine Corps is the best.  I wanted to be the nations and worlds most elite fighting force.  I wanted to command the best troops.  You watch in movies, and read in the books all about them.  I wanted to be a part of that.  It’s the old saying, it’s not what the Marine Corps can do for you, it’s what you can do for the Marine Corps.  It really appealed to me.  It’s a competitive environment where you were rewarded for merit.

You started writing in active duty?  I started writing in a journal in July 2010 when my combat platoon was doing combat operations in operation new dawn in the province.  Just alone in the first week, my Marines found close to 16 IEDs,  destroyed 200 pounds of drugs, and were arresting Taliban.  I took a step back and realized they were doing impressive things.  I wanted to document that.  The whole month of July I just kept writing in my journal and ended up with 40 pages at the end of the month – I thought that was a good start.

So you realized you have enough to write a book?  Very little is written on Afghanistan.  Its America’s longest and least talked about war.  At the end of the day, it’s not about me it’s about my men.  The actions they did were truly amazing.  It should be a story that the rest of the American population should know about.  I’m not going to lie, during my time over there it seems like what was read in the media at home was about casualties and gave our military a negative point of view.   It’s really the opposite of what my experience was.  If you read the book, you’ll see it’s about how these hard working guys, right out of high school, joined the Marine Corps to be the brave and bold few fighting for the American way.

Have your Marines read this?  It’s only been out about two and a half weeks.  But, my Marines that have read it say good things about it.

Was publishing it difficult?  I wanted to find a good publishing company with a good track record.  The problem is today that less than one-percent of Americans are in the military.  So a lot of the acronyms and speech and lingo used in the book, or even just talking with people in the publishing worlds were astute in understanding where I’m coming from.  It was a little difficult.  My job is not to get mad at things like that but to educate them, especially now that I’m a graduate student here at Rutgers.  It’s a learning experience for both of us [referring to publisher].  It took about 3 years from start to finish to get published.

Would you recommend people do military service?  If people want to gain experience and serve a noble cause – then yes I’d recommend it.  I would not force it on anyone.  I don’t have anything negative to say.  It offered me great, real-world experience.  I can now apply that to the academic circles I’m in.

What are you here for grad school?  Criminal Justice, which is also what I got my bachelors in.

Goals after graduate school?  I’ve got a few ways I can go.  I can always go back into the military or I could pursue a career in federal service.  I have also thought about law school or a PhD.  I think being a professor would be really cool.

Where can people buy your book?  You can buy it on Amazon.com, Google, BarnesandNobles.com, iUniverse.

Why should someone read this book?  People should read the book to get a better understand of men and women who are really serving over there.  I think it’s a great story for people who want to learn more about American history; this book is now part of history.  People should also read it because, if you understand anything about [military]history, a combined action company (CAC) is a new concept.  It has to do with counterinsurgency operations.  Marine Corp has been doing these CACs since the Banana Wars 100 years ago.  In Vietnam, the Marine Corps did it again in which is noted in Bing West’s book The Village.  My battalion pulled my platoon and one other platoon out of our company, and we took West’s idea to the next level.  This is important because it’s part of a doctrine that any military organization can use.  In the book, I’ve laid out step-by-step TTP’s -Techniques, Tactics, and Procedures – of how military units can work with these Afghans to defeat the Taliban, which is the whole purpose.  The military can really benefit off it.  It’s also a great story too.  I offer a lot in the literary sense as well.  There’s a lot of subtext in the literature that people will pick up.  From a literary point of view, English teachers and students might like it.  It shows you what it’s like to be in 120 weather, walking through canals all day with muddy boots, sleeping in the dirt, and losing all comforts.  It gives a picturesque image of what it’s like on a daily basis. It’s not to complain, it’s really to educate.  Marines just love doing that stuff.  It’s to show what we are doing over there.  We are hardcore guys like that.  There is also a lot of talk about how America is a losing power, and it’s going away, but the guys I write about this book are the image that represents the American idealism that we are known for.

I wanted to put my Marines in the history books, and to tell a story.  I wanted the missions and lessons never to be forgotten from this grateful nation.  I wanted the parents and families to know what these Marines were doing over there.  I wanted America to know we are doing the right thing.

Did you like writing or was this something that you grew to like?  I started writing in high school.  I had a very good high school English teacher senior year, Mr. Barret.  He taught me a lot about literature, like the subtext and themes I never knew.  I probably read 300-400 books just that [senior]year.  I’m an avid reader and student of marine history.  I think I always will be – especially of Marine History.

During the deployment I did feel obligated, as Lieutenant and as an officer, to write this story.  This is not a knock on them, but a lot of the guy in the military are really not the rich.  They come from working class backgrounds.  Sometimes they don’t have the tools or time to publish a book that people from the upper class do.  I had some time to write; I wanted to get their story out.

Who’s your favorite military figure from the past and present?  Past military figures would be George Washington, Smedley Butler, Dan Daly, Chesty Puller are all great military leaders.  My current favorite is General James Mattis.  He has that warrior mentality that marines have.  I use a few of his quotes in the book.

How’s life back in civilian life?  It’s a little bit of a rough struggle.  There’s a saying, “It’s easier to go in and harder to come out”.  I find that to be true.  Very few people on campus have been in the military, and what I’ve noticed is that it’s more of a mentality of empathy and sympathy that we [vets]get from the general public.  A lot of military guys don’t want all that, we just wanted to be treated like everyone else.   I like how much support America, as a whole, has given to us.

What about how Rutgers-Camden helps their veterans?  The veterans lounge in general is great.  It gives these veterans a sense of camaraderie.  They can talk about classes, study, etc.  I know for me, I instantly start gravitating towards other marines.  I think Rutgers is number 3 in the country for veterans.  Rutgers was actually named after a war hero, so they have a history with veterans.  Veterans bring a lot to campus and Rutgers benefits from the veteran input.

Is this the beginning of your writing career or is this it?  For right now, this is the only book I have written.  I just wanted to get this story out.  It’s not about my claim to fame; it’s about my Marines and the platoon.  It’s about the lives they saved, the missions they were in, and the operations done.  People will read it and think, “Wow – I can’t believe these 18, 19 year old guys did all that.

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  1. Thank you to the Rutgers Gleaner and the Student Veterans for coordinating this successful event. It was a true privilege and an honor to speak.

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