By Edward RiveraMarch 8, 2013
FORT WORTH, Texas - Cody Hammer graduated from Stephen F. Austin State University in 2005, but it would be seven years before the Geography major would find his way to the Fort Worth District as a Geospatial Information Systems Specialist with the Piney Woods Regional Project.
After earning his degree, Hammer enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in May 2005. After graduating basic training he attended the School of Infantry where he would be assigned as a Marine Rifleman with Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 23rd Marines of the 4th Marine Regiment, a Marine Corps Reserve unit out of Shreveport, La.
Returning from his initial military training Hammer became a graduate student and worked as a GIS specialist for a company out of the Dallas-Fort Worth area until 2007 when he was called to active duty for a year to serve in Iraq. Due to under manning, he deployed as an attachment to Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 23rd Marines.
"I operated out of Combat Outpost Ellis that was named after a Sgt. Maj. Joseph J. Ellis who was killed in the village by a suicide bomber," said Hammer. "It was located in Barwanah, Al Anbar province on the Euphrates River three miles south of the now infamous village of Haditha. Our primary mission was to secure the village and surrounding areas."
After seven months Hammer would return home and continue as a GIS specialist in his hometown of Longview,Texas. But it wouldn't be long before his country would call on him to deploy once again in 2010, this time to Afghanistan.
"We operated out of the Marjiah District Center in Helmand province, the primary mission was to protect the district governor and any U.S. and allied interests in the city," he said.
On Aug. 19, 2011, Hammer would experience a life defining event. While on a resupply and transport mission Hammer, the lead driver in a Mine-Resistant, Ambush-Protected vehicle equipped with a mine roller struck the switch for a victim operated improvised explosive device.
"We vary our routes to disrupt enemy operations as much as possible, but that morning we had a short turn around for a follow-on mission so we had to take the shortest route, which was one we had taken days earlier," explained Hammer. "I crested a small hill and started down the northern slope, aiming between two sandy areas into a spot where I could see there had been plenty of local vehicle traffic. As I slowed down to make sure the mine roller did not bounce and loose contact with the ground, reducing its coverage, the roller struck the switch."
The ensuing explosion blasted the mine roller upside down, blowing off all eight wheels. The size of the explosion was estimated at about 120 pounds, enough to sink almost any ship.
"The mine roller saved my life. It was just luck, or the hand of God on my shoulder, but I happened to be slowing down when the mine roller hit the trigger. A 500 pound piece of it was found 300 yards away," said Hammer.
After regaining his bearing an enraged Hammer opened his door to see a dust trail heading toward the horizon. It was a man on a motorcycle. The Marine corporal laid his rifle on the door to steady his aim.
"I looked through my optics and saw that he had no visible weapons and no visible wires, he simply did not meet the rules of engagement we were operating under. I had to let him go."
Later the Explosive Ordinance Disposal team would inform him that there was a single set of motorcycle tracks bisecting the crater left by the IED.
"I knew it was him, my only regret is that I had to let him go." It's really hard to imagine that coward may still be out there, maybe killed some other Marine, some other American."
Hammer's vehicle commander and machine gunner both sustained serious injuries and had to be evacuated immediately. Their lone passenger sustained minor wounds and continued on his mission and was relieved the following week ending his tour in Afghanistan.
"I was admitted to the Regimental Aid Station at Camp Dwyer with a concussion and injuries to my right elbow, forearm and hand."
Shortly after returning home and still recovering from his injuries, Hammer applied for a GIS position with the Piney Woods Regional Office and began his career with a different Corps.
"When I returned from my last deployment I went back to work in the private sector, but realized my job satisfaction was very low," said Hammer. "I will always have respect for the private sector, but working for the American people is really very rewarding to me."
Far from his life driving an MRAP in hostile areas of the world, Hammer finds himself excited with the variety of tasks he can undertake on a daily basis.
"Due to the nature of my job I can expect any given day to turn out 100 percent different than the day before. Today it's incorporating edits into a database, tomorrow it's scanning the shoreline for Giant Salvinia, and next it's putting out burning trees during a prescribed burn."
Although many of the skills he learned as a rifleman didn't quite equate to his current job, his time in the military ingrained a "never say can't or won't" attitude when it comes to accomplishing a task or mission.
"Even though I am a GIS Specialist, I believe my greatest asset is my wiliness to take on new tasks, even if it's outside of my comfort zone. I may be here serving in one role, but if I find an opportunity to pick up the slack in another role, well, that's just one more tool in my tool box I can use later."
Raymon Hedges, Environmental Stewardship Business Line Manager, Piney Woods Regional Project and Hammer's supervisor said, since coming on board last year, he has worked to adapt to the nuances and challenges of his job and is an eager team member for whatever, whenever, and wherever he is needed from his main duties as GIS Specialist to helping conduct archeological surveys and prescribed burns.
"I believe his service with the U.S. Marines has instilled a strong sense of duty that will benefit Piney Woods Regional Project and USACE for many years to come," said Hedges.
Not long after becoming a part of the Fort Worth District family Hammer was invited to take part in a wounded warrior hunt at the Town Bluff Project. He joined three other wounded warriors for a weekend hunting alligator. Additionally he has supported two other warrior hunts.
"When I was asked to join the Alligator hunt because one member could not make the trip, I was honored, said Hammer. "There is a connection between veterans that transcends titles, and even backgrounds. The Soldier I hunted with had a very different military experience than I. He served as an Army Scout, different mission, different methods, yet during the hunt we discovered a mutual appreciation for the outdoors, and for shooting sports. We have stayed in almost weekly contact since then."
For Hammer, his experience with wounded warriors and thus far with the Fort Worth District has been of pride and satisfaction to be able to continue service to his country. His work is no longer carried out on a sandy battle field but in a forest of piney woods. Although he misses the Marine Corps and his brothers-in-arms, he and his wife Katie are now part of another Corps family, the Fort Worth District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.