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Cobbs no longer apologetic about his time in the military

Bill Cobbs has had the honor of dually serving his county both as a Marine and as a soldier in the Army.

“You can’t go from any other branch to the Marines, but if you been in the Marines you can go to any other branch without any other additional physical basic training,” Cobbs said. “I joined the Marine Corps Reserves when I was a senior in high school. I joined Army ROTC at Iowa State where I was going at the time and I was training to be an officer. So I was listed in the Marines and I was training to be an officer at Iowa State.”

Cobbs was able to skip the first two years of ROTC at Iowa State thanks to his service in the Marines. He left the Marines as a Lance Corporal and went into the ROTC and Army National Guard in a simultaneous program as a man without a position.

“Once I was in ROTC, I didn’t really have a rank or position,” Cobbs said. “I had been released to join the ROTC, and I had to pick a unit to become what they called a cadet. So basically you are kind of an officer, kind of an enlistee and kind of a nobody and your kind of a somebody. You are going to be an officer in year or two, but right now you’re not.”

Cobbs wound up getting slotted into an intelligence unit of a brigade headquarters unit company. He explained that if at the time America were to go to war, his company would have been the one to dictate what soldiers did.

“All we did there was scenario war with the Russians,” Cobb said. “We scenario-ed war against Soviet-made military equipment. They had a computer — and we’re talking like 1990 — and we would do ‘Red Threat’ computer scenarios. You ever see Pong? It’s like Pong with computers. It was very high tech then, but not very much so now.”

Cobb was excelling with the ROTC program but then something happened that changed everything. Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait.

“I went to my fall semester at Iowa State and rumors started to swell about mobilizing Iowa National Guard units to go over there,” Cobbs said. “My unit was never going to go, because my unit was more a World War III type of unit. Unless you take the whole brigade you don’t need the brigade headquarters company.”

“I don’t know if there is a politically correct way of saying this, but I didn’t want to miss my war,” Cobbs continued. “They were never going to take the entire unit, so I was never going to go to Desert Storm. I put in a blanket request in to go with anybody that was going to go. I didn’t care who. Saturday I put the request in, Sunday I got accepted by the 1034 Quartermaster Company out of Camp Dodge. That Sunday they were getting mobilized, Monday I dropped out of school at Iowa State and basically put my entire life in order to report on Tuesday.”

Cobbs got switched from the quartermaster company to a water storage and purification unit and went to train in Wisconsin to go to war. He trained for a month in Wisconsin then went to Fort Lee, Va., to study how to train others in water purification techniques.

“The first week in January we actually went to Saudi Arabia,” Cobbs said. “You’re an Iowa kid and you don’t know what you’re in for and you look out your wingtip and there’s fighter escorts on both sides of you, escorting your plane in, that’s kind of a goose-bumpy kind of a deal, you know?”

Cobbs spent most of his time during Desert Storm in Saudi Arabia setting up water bases and water tank farms for his fellow troops. He never was involved in direct conflict but had several close encounters.

“Basically when you’re 21 years old, and you’re in Saudi Arabia in the back of a truck loaded to the hilt with weapons and somebody jumps in and says, ‘Hey, we’re under chemical attack,’ or ‘Chemical attack immanent,’ it seems pretty realistic,” Cobbs said. “We would put all of our chemical gear on and had to ride the rest of the way like that until we got into Kuwait.”

Cobbs also remembers seeing the immensely successful U.S. bombing campaign firsthand.

“We would sit and watch the glow,” Cobbs said. “You look straight north at Iraq and just watch the sky glow. You would watch the sky glow from the bombing, and you would feel the rumble in your chest. That was the neatest thing ... I mean, of course, it’s destruction. It’s not a good thing. But you would just watch it and go ‘Holy crap, that’s powerful stuff.’ It was many miles away. First there was the glow and then the rumble. It was like a huge thunderstorm a long, long ways away and you could feel it.”

Cobbs admitted he used to feel ashamed to talk about his time in the service because he never saw combat, but now as a 43-year-old man, he takes pride in what he accomplished in his youth.

“At one point in time, I was apologetic about my military service because I didn’t get shot or shoot other people or never fired a weapon in anger or have one fired at me in anger,” Cobbs said. “For every supply sergeant in Kansas, there’s a guy fighting someplace, but they both need each other. You can’t have one without the other. It takes a guy to make the bullet.”

Staff writer Ty Rushing may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 426, or at

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