Art Illman/Daily News staff
U.S. Marine Corps Sgt. Sven Mozdiez is recovering from a leg injury he suffered in Iraq at his home in Holliston.
By David Riley/Daily News staff
MetroWest Daily News
Posted Nov 16, 2008 @ 11:52 PM
At 25, Sven Mozdiez has sailed the world, been wounded on the streets of Fallujah and become a father.
Now Holliston's youngest veteran is looking to settle down for a bit.
"I'm enjoying being around my friends again," Mozdiez, a Marine sergeant, said at his family's Dalton Road home Wednesday. "I haven't really stayed around town in the last decade."
He left high school as a junior in 1999 on the Picton Castle, a tall ship used for sail training. His parents were not thrilled with the idea, he said.
"It was definitely denied initially," Mozdiez said. "But I kept with it and was increasingly adamant about going."
After seeing 57 countries in two years working on the tall ship, Mozdiez served with the Marines in Iraq, Lebanon, Djibouti, Jordan and the U.S. Gulf Coast.
In 2006, a wound from earlier in his travels caught up with him. He had hurt his right leg in Iraq two years earlier, and finally his leg gave out. Since then he has been through surgery, physical therapy and other treatment to repair nerve and tendon damage, he said.
Before a reporter could finish asking how the injury affected him, Mozdiez had an answer.
"Psychologically?" he asked with a smile. "Big pain in the ass."
But he is making plans for the future as he awaits word on whether he will be medically discharged from the Marines. Mozdiez wants to go to college on the G.I. bill. He is raising a daughter, Madison, 3.
"I'm definitely done moving around and I definitely want to raise my daughter in this area," Mozdiez said.
His family is grateful to have him home. "We're very proud of him," said his mother, Margaret. "But it was very difficult while he was away, especially when he would call us and you could hear the artillery fire."
'Round the world
Mozdiez earned a general equivalency diploma and took the SAT before he left for the high seas so he would be ready for college when he returned.
From hauling lines to scrubbing decks, he did it all, delivering educational supplies in other countries along the way. After he returned in 2001, he applied to maritime academies, but opted to attend Flagler College in St. Augustine, Fla.
However, higher education "didn't really take."
"I was 20. Most guys there were 18," Mozdiez said. "I had just sailed around the world with people who were 30, 40 years old."
He worked in sales before joining the Marines. "I was at a point in my life when I really felt like I needed to do something, and it wasn't school for me," Mozdiez said.
Searching for the right words, he said, "I wanted to find out what kind of man I could be."
Ten blocks in two weeks
By June 2004, Mozdiez was in Iraq with the 1st Battalion, 8th Marines. He first patrolled Haditha and tried to build rapport with local people, "whether it be with soccer balls or money."
In November, his unit was at the center of a bloody battle to free Fallujah from insurgent control. They lost 21 Marines, he said.
Mozdiez recalled fighting door-to-door for two weeks, traversing just 10 blocks. Marines encountered traps in front yards and came under fire as soon as they opened front gates.
After kicking in front doors, improvised explosive devices or propane tanks often waited for them, he said. Beyond that were weapon caches. Well-trained insurgents moved through tunnels dug between houses.
"If someone were to ask me, 'How does it feel to be in a combat situation?' I'd say you have to remember there are bullets flying both ways," Mozdiez said. "You have to do what has to be done to survive."
An embedded reporter got word to Mozdiez's father, Joe, that he had spoken to Sven in Fallujah. Joe had listened to the radio for hourly updates on the battle and was relieved when the message came.
"What a lot of people maybe don't realize is what the parents go through as well," Joe said. "The whole family goes along for the ride."
During fighting, a mortar blast knocked Mozdiez hard to the ground, hurting his leg. "There was so much going on ... I didn't do anything about it," he said. "For the next couple years, I just took Motrin and water."
Katrina and beyond
Mozdiez returned to the United States in January 2005. That fall, he went to the Gulf Coast, aiding Hurricane Katrina survivors and clearing debris, from Slidell, La., to New Orleans.
Black mold grew where water receded and sewage rose with the water table, he said.
"It was a lot of long days and grimy experiences," Mozdiez said. "But at the end of things, it was fulfilling."
The next year, Mozdiez traveled to Lebanon, helping with evacuations in Beirut as Israeli soldiers and Hezbollah militants battled.
He went on to help train Pakistani marines in Djibouti, and also was part of joint military training in Jordan.
Home sweet Holliston
Mozdiez had less than a year left in the Marines when his leg gave out. He went abruptly from peak condition, running six days a week, to treatment and hospitalization. It was, to say the least, an adjustment.
"After the surgery," he said, "I gained 110 pounds in nine months."
The Marines have allowed Mozdiez to return home for now, and he is making major strides. Though he walks with a carbon fiber cast and a cane, he is exercising without straining his leg and has dropped 68 pounds.
He has not yet chosen a career path, but as a single father, he has ideas.
"I'm definitely looking to go to college, and I'm even considering going into family law and trying to became an advocate for fathers," Mozdiez said. "I feel like we're not considered enough in child custody cases."
He is ready for the next step, proud of where he has been. "I enjoyed being part of the Marines," he said. "I value what we did in very high regard."