Contra Costa soldier escorts military VIPs, State Department
personnel in Afghanistan
By Lou Fancher
When Rodrick Stowell was a student at Deer Valley High School in Antioch and then for two-and-a-half years at Clayton Valley High School before graduating in 2011, courage meant asking a girl for a date. Today, the 22-year-old Specialist and Team Leader with the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division stationed in Afghanistan says courage means protecting freedom by escorting military VIPs and State Department personnel as they move through the streets of Kabul to assist troops and citizens.
"We're supporting them, like guardian angels. I haven't been in any problems, but there are suicide vests, weapon caches. A platoon in my unit was blown up by a vehicle-borne IED. That's a vehicle packed with explosives that just detonated itself," Stowell says.
Staying positive -- a phrase he repeats often in a conversation from a secure location the Army has flown him to by helicopter after a week of arrangements -- is the best remedy to fear. That, and reminding himself of the changes he's seen in Afghanistan since arriving in April.
"Back when we first started, there was war everywhere. Now, it's slowing down. More girls are going to school now, too. The Taliban wouldn't let them. Now we're getting the Taliban out of here and girls are getting more freedom."
Public Affairs Staff Officer David N. Lakin says Stowell is "a great soldier" and representative of the best men and women on the 20-acre compound. The coalition is comprised of 2,500 people from 42 countries. Lakin says meals in the dining hall are like a United Nation's gathering of a multinational team working to
train, advise and assist the Afghans.
"We're helping a troubled country to be whole again," says Stowell.
In many ways, the Army has helped Stowell to "be whole" for the first time.
By his own admission, Stowell wasn't academically driven.
Growing up in the East Bay, he loved baseball, especially the Oakland A's, and In-N-Out Burger.
He followed the Raiders. (Afghanistan is 12 hours ahead of California time, but Stowell watches his favorite teams' games even if it means getting up at 1 a.m.).
At 6 feet, 130 pounds, he gained 30 pounds and lifted weights to make sure he was "one of the best" during basic training.
"I've matured a lot. I've become better at working with others," he says.
"I had anger issues and wasn't a bad person, I just let it get to me.
"Now, I'm a mellow person and it's made me more professional."
His mother, Angela Martin, says that among her "three amazing boys" Stowell has "blossomed since being in the Army."
"He's great with structure now. Yet he's still the same kid with the same heart, he just has a different drive," she says.
Motivated to enlist in part by a college application that was lost three times, the events of 911 and his older brother who is in the Army Reserve, Stowell found not only stability in the military, but his wife, Britniann Stowell.
"I met him in New York, September 2013. My best friend from high school dated his best friend in the Army," she says.
"The night I walked in their house, he and I knew it was the whole thing. I never believed in love at first sight until I met him."
Missing her flight at the end of her visit and forced to stay an extra night, Stowell asked her out. She says the missed flight is the best bad luck she's ever had.
They married in July 2014. Waiting for his return in her hometown, Junction City, Ore., their golden retriever, Oliver, is her constant companion.
"He's a support dog so he's working for me now." Studying to go to nursing school while working as a certified nursing assistant in a rehabilitation facility, she says,
"I'm very proud of Rodrick. We text, maybe once or twice a week, but I haven't talked to him for months. Nighttime is hardest."
An app on her phone counts the time before his return. "Right now it's at 56 days, 1 month, 3 weeks, 5 days, 2 hours, 12 minutes and 45 seconds," she says.
Stowell has re-enlisted for another three years and expects to be stationed at Fort Lewis near Tacoma, Wash., in May.
"I might get out and become a firefighter, but I might stay in," he says.
"I've always wanted to save people. There's not much to it other than that."
One thing is certain upon his return. After hugging his mom and other family members, Stowell plans "to make up for missing my first wedding anniversary."