PAKTIKA PROVINCE, Afghanistan – What young single guy doesn’t want to party like a rock star in Las Vegas on a daily basis? Well, that’s how it was for Marcus Chambers, who was performing odd jobs to survive before he had an epiphany.
Chambers is now a specialist serving on his third deployment with the 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, as a combat engineer assigned to Route Clearance Platoon 5, Company A, Special Troops Battalion, known for its partnership training with their Afghan counterparts.
He was born and raised in Victorville, Calif., a small town on the outskirts of the National Training Center, Fort Irwin, Calif., where the military has a strong influence in the community. At first, Chambers rebelled against the rich military history that graced his Family’s blood line.
“My whole Family has been in the military – my father, grandfather and brothers,” Chambers said.
The youngest of three children, he chose the road less travelled by his Family. Still in his teens, Chambers dropped out of high school and picked up a trade skill before moving to the city of lights.
“I was living in Las Vegas working a lot of dead-end jobs. I was making enough money to survive, but that was it. There was no future in it,” he said. “I was working for an amusement company, where people would rent arcade games from us, so we’d rebuild them and take it to their house or shop. If I wasn’t doing that job, I was working in construction hanging dry wall.”
After one wild night on the strip, Chambers said he had an epiphany.
“What do I have after this? I could see myself being 40, standing in the same spot, asking myself the same question, and not have gone anywhere. I just had to get out that situation,” he said.
So one day, he went down to the recruiter’s office and started talking to them about his plans to do something productive with his life. They worked with him and were able to get him into the military.
“The recruiters helped me get a GED; they worked a lot with me,” he said.
After everything was well on schedule, the opportunity arose for him to choose a military occupational specialty, but there was one slight hiccup in the plan.
“I was trying to be an armorer because I thought that was cool, but they wanted me to go before I wanted to leave,” Chambers said. “So, I checked out my other options and saw all the cool things that the engineers were doing. They were building things and blowing up stuff, playing with the cool guy things that people don’t want us to play with. There were a lot of outdoor hands-on things I can do, and it seemed perfect for me.”
Finally, Chambers found his niche, he said.
After completing basic training and advanced individual training, he made it to his first duty station, the home of the “Big Red One” at Fort Riley, in January 2007.
While he has completed two tours to Operation Iraqi Freedom, Chambers said he feels like he’s made more of an impact in the Paktika and Ghazni provinces of Afghanistan.
“I think it’s a huge, huge pride booster for us because we go do things that 90 percent of the military is deathly afraid of,” he said. “We get to go out there, see how close we can get to (improvised explosive devices) and neutralize them, so people can do what they need to do to get the job done.
“It’s pretty awesome when people come and request us to go out in front of them because they know they will get where they need to go with less IEDs. It makes us feel amazing and extremely proud.”
The Route Clearance Platoon Chambers is assigned to has done so well in clearing the major thoroughfares in the two provinces, commonly known to 4th IBCT as “Dragonstan,” that they have worked themselves from the road to the classroom.
“We pretty much worked ourselves out of a job here,” he said. “The guy we work with in the (route clearance company), they are the best at what they do on the Afghan side of the house,“ he said. “We’ve been asked to cross train each other and show them what has been working for us, so they can continue the mission.
“I do feel like I’ve made a difference here. When we first got here, it was a little awkward because we needed to build trust with them. Now we have the friend relationship, they look forward to seeing us, and we’ve learned a lot from each other.”
When the world has a watchful eye on the news, with huge following on the insider threats that have plagued numerous commands throughout Afghanistan, the “Dragon” Brigade prides itself on the trust and relationships they’ve built with their Afghan partners, Chambers said.
“I don’t know if it’s the mutual respect between us, but we realize that we aren’t the threat – IEDs are. If there is an insider threat, it’s not toward us at all. They realize we are there to help them, and we have the same goal,” he said. “So, there’s not very much tension at all.”
Even with all the great things he’s accomplished so far during his seven-year Army career, Chambers said he has decided not to continue on his current path. He’s decided to make a new one. He said he plans to leave the military once his time is up to follow a second passion of his – motorcycles.
“I plan on going back to school to become a Harley Davidson mechanic, move to Oklahoma and open my own shop,” he said.
Chambers also found the love of his life in the streets of Aggieville, a small college community in Manhattan, Kan. He and his wife of two years also are planning to start a Family once the deployment is over.
By Sgt. Gene Arnold
4th IBCT Public Affairs