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Detectives who bonded on the battlefield

Photo from Operation Vigilant Resolve taken by Cpl. Matthew J. Apprendi on April 3, 2004

Detectives who bonded on the battlefield

Eighteen years before detectives Erik Kusmerz and Tyrell Joyner worked together on the Naomi Irion case, they served in the same Marine Corps battalion.

Born one year apart – Erik in 1982, Ty in 1983 – they hailed from much different backgrounds. Erik grew up outside of Atlanta, while Ty was from rural Nevada.

After graduating from high school in 2001, Erik joined the Corps. Right around the time he finished boot camp at Parris Island, a pair of hijacked jetliners struck the Twin Towers in New York.

Ty was working as a cowboy on a cattle ranch in Central Nevada when 9/11 happened. Although he was far removed from the urban East Coast, both geographically and culturally, the attacks spurred Ty to enlist.

Following boot camp in San Diego, Ty was assigned to 3rd Battalion, 4th Marines, nicknamed the “Thundering Third.” Consisting of about a thousand men and women, the battalion, based in Twentynine Palms, California, specialized in close combat.

In 2003, while Erik served with the Security Regiment in Washington, D.C., Ty took part in the initial invasion of Iraq. Three weeks after the invasion began, the Thundering Third stormed into Fidos Square in Baghdad and toppled the statue of Saddam Hussein.

Eventually Erik transferred out of the Security Regiment and wound up in Okinawa, Japan. Ty was also in Okinawa, and that’s how the two men met. 

“I heard there was a guy who had a cell phone,” Ty recalled recently. “He let me use his phone to call a girl. She’s now my wife.”

Erik and Ty became fast friends. Both were whip-smart, and in the manner of men who are brave, spoke with understatement rather than bravado.

In March 2004, after insurgents in Fallujah killed four American contractors and hung their charred bodies from a bridge, the Marines got sent in – a campaign called Operation Vigilant Resolve.

In the wee hours of April 13, 2004, about twelve miles outside Fallujah, Erik and Ty were among the Marines who advanced into the town of al Karmah. But from the start it was a rough day.

In the predawn darkness, a convoy of tactical vehicles dubbed “7-tons” crossed a bridge over a canal. Everyone aboard was wearing night vision goggles. When an aerial gunship fired at insurgents in a pickup, the flash of light “whited out” the night vision. In this moment of temporary blindness, one of the 7-ton drivers rolled his vehicle, and men spilled into the canal.

Lyon County Sheriff’s Detective Tyrell Joyner at a news conference about the Naomi Irion case in 2023. 

In town, Erik hunkered down as RPGs streaked by. Ty was in another part of the town, and later recalled that at first light of dawn, “all hell broke loose.”

The battle raged all day – more than eight hours of intense urban combat. When the fighting finally died down, Erik spotted Ty and his squad approaching. Running forward to meet his good friend, Erik said, “Dude, you have no idea what we’ve just been through!”

“Us too!” Ty replied, and they clapped each other on the back.

Ty eventually retired from the Corps and joined the Lyon County Sheriff’s Office. Erik decided to do the same. After Naomi Irion was abducted, the two former Marines worked together on the case day and night.

Feature photo above: U.S. Marines during Operation Vigilant Resolve in April 2004, photo by Cpl. Matthew J. Apprendi.

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