“It was that unforgettable ‘whooossssh’ a rocket makes,” he said. “It was right at eye level, coming straight at me. I saw the smoke, heard the bang, and stuff started flying all over.”
A member of Navy Construction Battalion 18, a Reserve unit out of Ft. Lewis, Wash., the Oakley resident was starting his second tour in the war zone in August of 2010 when the rocket attack occurred. His unit, commonly referred to as “Seabees,” was part of a joint task force assigned to oversee $250 million in construction projects.
Marquart made it unscathed through his first tour in 2008-09, but not his second. As the 107mm rocket approached, he had enough time only to turn around and put his back to the incoming missile. It hit the ground 10 feet from him, showering him with shrapnel and hurling a chunk of hot steel into his back, just two inches from his spine.
“I thought I’d been hit by a rock or something,” he recalled during an interview last weekend at his home. “There’s a blank spot (in his memory) after that. I remember waking up on the floor inside the trailer, but I don’t know how I got there.” He reached up to check his shoulder, and his hand came away crimson with blood.
Treated by a series of coalition medics, doctors and nurses – and dosed up with morphine – Marquart was told to call his wife, Lynne, to tell her he’d been wounded. The result was “my most bittersweet day,” he said.
The call came in to Oakley, waking Lynne up at about 1:30 a.m. “The only thing I heard was ‘I got hit,’” said Lynne. Wanting to cheer her husband as best she could, she passed along some great news: “We’re pregnant,” she told him.
Unable to do anything else for her injured spouse, Lynne began stuffing yet another care package to send him, this time with something special from their 7-year-old-son, Ryan.
“He snuck a Spiderman Band-Aid in there,” said Chris. “ I definitely remember getting that.”
Two weeks later, however, Lynne suffered a miscarriage, adding to the stress on the entire family. A two-week visit home wasn’t enough, and after returning to Afghanistan to resume his mission, his wound and his wife’s condition proved too much of a distraction, and Chris was ordered home a few months later.
But he didn’t tell Lynne. Instead, he worked his way all the way to his front door without her knowledge, and surprised the family into stunned silence.
“It took me a few minutes to realize he was standing there,” Lynne said. “My brain was saying, “He’s in Afghanistan, not standing at our front door.’ It was a great surprise.”
Marquart has almost fully recovered from the physical part of his injury, but he’s easily startled by loud noises, and doesn’t like crowded places. He’s also had to relearn driving in America.
“I keep having to tell him that my little Escape is not an armored vehicle,” laughed Lynne.
Marquart is now working on getting full clearance to return to his unit and deploy if and when it does. He hopes that if he’s sent overseas again, it’s on a humanitarian mission.
“Two tours in Afghanistan in three years,” he said, “I’m done (with combat.)”
A technician for Comcast when he’s home, Marquart said he’d like to extend his seven-year enlistment to a full 20. For now, the 36-year-old believes his brush with death has made him slow down and take life easier. He’s an assistant Cubmaster for Ryan’s Cub Scout pack, likes to help with his daughter Julianne’s homework, and notices small things, even rattles in his work truck, more.
Awarded the Purple Heart and Navy Achievement Medal, Marquart is happy he was the only one injured in what became an attempt to breach the compound’s walls that was reported worldwide.
“The coalition happened to be doing a live-fire exercise on the other side of the fence when they attacked,” he said. “I don’t know the full story; I just know they (the attackers) are dead.”
Lynne said she’s proud of her husband, and doesn’t think his wound will keep him from doing his duty. After a brief enlistment earlier in life, she said, he re-enlisted as a result of 9/11.
“He saw the attacks and he said, ‘I’m not done. I’m not done serving my country.’” After her husband’s bureaucratic struggle to re-enlist, Lynne is confident things will return to normal for Chris.
“A little shrapnel,” she said, “is not going to keep him down.”