N.D. football coach learns new appreciation after deployment to Afghanistan
Grand Forks Herald
ROLLA, N.D. — Football always has been a big part of Jeff Marty’s life — until last season. That’s when the sport, as well as all other aspects of his life, gave way to long hours of work, monotony and the on-going threat of danger on foreign soil.
The 48-year-old Marty is back as head football coach of North Prairie, a co-op football team between the Rolla, Rolette and Wolford high schools. The Cougars are 7-2 and host Carrington on Saturday afternoon in the opening round of the North Dakota Class A high school playoffs.
Marty has been on the program’s coaching staff for several years, but took a leave of absence in 2012 when, as a member of the U.S. Naval Reserve, he was deployed for a mission in Afghanistan.
“My wife, Donna, tells me that football consumes us during the fall,” Marty said. “I deny that. But it is a big thing for me. I love the sport.
“I appreciate being able to coach more now, to be around the kids and working with the kids. That’s one of the things I really love about coaching. You appreciate it more after being gone for a year.”
Marty was called to duty shortly after the 2011 season concluded.
In January 2012, Marty left for five weeks of training. That was followed in March by being sent to Kabul, Afghanistan. There he was part of a multinational training command working with Afghan schools for army and police forces that were transitioning to Afghan control.
It wasn’t an exciting assignment.
“There wasn’t much to do for excitement,” Marty said. “There wasn’t a lot of down time. Mostly it was 12-hour work days, seven days a week. I’d spend free time going to a gym to work out and stay in shape.
“There really wasn’t much to do as far as social aspects. There were no movie theaters or bowling alleys. Some guys had video games. The big thing was being able to Skype home.”
As far as danger, on a scale of one to 10, Marty said it was around a five in his situation. “It was much more dangerous than being in Rolla,” he said. “But it wasn’t like the danger for the guys who were out on patrol. We had decent security measures in place.”
Still, around every military base there were local populations. Some locals were employed on the bases. Marty said there always an element of danger and there were several situations where attacks were in his vicinity.
“In March, five or six rocket grenades were launched at us,” Marty said. “They landed a couple of hundred yards away from where I worked.”
Was he ever scared? “There were two or three times when it was concerning.”
Following his team
Marty missed his family. He missed football. For a long time, the sport had been a major part of his autumns — playing in high school at Pelican Rapids, from which he graduated in 1983, then on to Moorhead State, where he was a starting linebacker/defensive end his final two seasons, and then on to the coaching ranks.
Not only was Marty missing football. He also was missing family ties with the sport. His youngest son, Grayson, was starting on the line for North Prairie. Another son, Zach, was an assistant coach.
“It was tough missing football with Grayson playing,” Marty said. “I was able to get some game films after the fact to watch. And I was able to listen to a few of the games live on the radio. It was like 3 in the morning over there. It was hard, not being able to be a part of it.”
Grayson said the absence of his father was more than just about football.
“It was weird at first, not having him coaching,” he said. “It was hard at first. But I got used to it. I just missed dad. It was hard to be without him for a year. He takes care of us. It was different without him. And you worried about (his safety) sometimes.”
But Marty returned to Rolla in February. He came back to coach an experienced team that, after going 2-6 last season, enters the playoffs as the No. 2 seed from Region 2A. His son, Grayson, is a senior and a starting lineman.
“He’s still the same coach,” Grayson said. “Dad likes to tell jokes during practices. And he has a lot of energy, always moving during a game, hollering and keeping us into the games.”
Marty may be the same football coach, excitable and enthusiastic. As a person, however, Marty said the experience in Afghanistan has changed him.
“It probably brought home some things to me,” he said. “It has helped me to really appreciate what we have here. And that’s not just about sports. You missed the comforts you have here that are taken for granted.”
DeVillers reports on sports. Call him at (701) 780-1128, (800) 477-6572 ext. 1128 or send e-mail to email@example.com.
©2013 the Grand Forks Herald (Grand Forks, N.D.)
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