Radford University junior Cody Ross was in the sixth grade on Sept. 11, 2001. "I remember when I heard about it. We got out of school early, but I didn't know why," he recalled. "I've been a huge history fan all my life. I knew about Pearl Harbor. When 9-11 happened, I knew what was going to happen next. History does repeat itself in many ways."
A decade later, as a reservist in the National Guard, Ross was very much a part of what happened next. The RU history major was deployed to the southern province of Zabul in Afghanistan shortly after the storming of Osama Bin Laden's compound in Pakistan. "I gathered intelligence to give to units as they did their missions," he said.
"I knew I wouldn't be in Afghanistan without a purpose. I knew that was where I needed to be," he said. "I was there right after Osama was killed and was there when the conflict started between Afghanistan, the U.S. and Pakistan."
He was deployed not far from where the border conflicts were the most intense, yet he does not recall feeling fearful. "We had to stay focused. We had fear in the back of our minds but were too busy with what was at hand to really worry," he said. "There was a bond of brotherhood there. We worked closely with other guys, and we were there serving our country together."
Ross's chose to join the National Guard as a way to serve his community and his country at the same time while following a family tradition. His grandfather was in the military in World War II, and his father retired from the U.S. Coast Guard.
He chose Radford University in part because he wanted to stay close to his home in Blacksburg. "I've always been a family-oriented man. I like staying close to my family. I like the environment here. Radford is not huge, and it has a great education program."
Ross is the first in his family to attend college, and he said he wondered at times if he wanted to return to school after his military deployment. His decision was influenced by History Professor Matt Oyos. "He always was pushing me to do the best thing and not to procrastinate. He taught me to always give it my best."
Ross is humble about his military experience. "I share stories with family and friends, but I don't go out and tell people I'm a veteran. That's not necessary. I don't feel bigger than anyone because I did this," he said.
He recognizes that his experience makes him a role model for younger students, including his brother, who is still in high school. "He doesn't say it, but he lets me know in other ways, 'I am proud of what you're doing. I thank you, and I want to be like you.' "
Outside the classroom, Ross is active in RU's Veterans Affairs Learning Opportunity Residency program, known as VALOR, which provides students with experiential learning in health care for military veterans, including social work issues. He also shares his military experience by working with ROTC.
Wars inevitably generate conflicting views of a nation's involvement, and Ross defends everyone's right to voice an opinion.
"They have their rights, too. I may not agree with them, but I'm not going to argue with them. We were over there doing our duty."