DRACUT, Mass.—Cpl. Brian Cozy's squad was positioned atop a hillside in Afghanistan when gunfire erupted around them.
Taliban militants ran between the mud huts below and fired machine guns. The dozen or so Marines fired back, but they were easy targets on the downward slope. Cozy, a 24-year-old Dracut native and machine gunner, lay on his stomach in the open, firing. It was Oct. 21 and Cozy had only arrived in the dangerous Helmand province about a month earlier.
When the gunfire ended, his commander called for the squad to return to base, but as they started to retreat, they came under attack again. Cozy again put himself in danger, manning his machine gun without cover. His commander called for him to move back, but he refused to leave his post until the others were safe.
Cozy was recently awarded a Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal For Valor for his heroism that day.
"I was already in a bad position and I wanted to save my buddies. I think everyone would do it," said Cozy, who is uncomfortable with the attention.
Cozy and his unit, 1st Battalion, 8th Marines, returned home from Afghanistan, his second deployment, several weeks ago. During his seven months there, he wasn't able to send mail and communication was limited. Cozy's proud grandfather, James Cozy of Dracut, said the family didn't know any of the details about the medal until recently.
"I told them I was safe over there, so they wouldn't worry," said Cozy.
Cozy was one of about two dozen Marines stationed at a lookout post at the top of a mountain called "Panda Ridge," where they would leave for patrols on a near daily basis.
The day he risked his life out on patrol on that hillside Oct. 21 was a good day, Cozy said. No one died. There were no injuries. Other days in Afghanistan weren't as good. Cozy wears a silver, engraved bracelet on his right wrist to honor one of his former commanders who died in Afghanistan several months ago.
"This is what Brian does. It's his job," said his mother, Trish, as if it's something she's said before for comfort.
The mention of the term IED, or improvised explosive device, upsets her and she's counting the days until November, when his military career is expected to end.
Cozy told his father, Jim, a U.S. Navy veteran, about the October firefight, but no one else in his family knew Cozy earned a medal for his heroism until he returned home last week on leave from Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, where he trains new recruits as machine gunners.
"He didn't tell anyone of us because he knew we would be worried," said Trish Cozy.
Cozy, the oldest of three children, attended Dracut High School before earning his GED. He bounced around at various odd jobs, working as a landscaper and a two-week stint as a car salesman. But nothing seemed to fit. He walked into the military recruitment office in Lowell looking for information.
A couple days later, he was a Marine.
His first deployment was to Iraq, where he was stationed south of Fallujah for seven months in 2009. A year later, he was in Afghanistan.
After spending Easter with his friends and family, Cozy heads back to North Carolina in a few days, but plans to return to Dracut once he leaves the military. As for his recent medal, Cozy remains modest.
"I didn't really want it. I just think it's something everyone should do. You shouldn't get an award for it," said Cozy.
Information from: http://www.lowellsun.com/