By Diana Hammell
The Caledonia Argus
As of this past August, Tim Moenck marked his 17th year of his committment to the U. S. Army. He spent this past weekend with his Army reserve unit in Decorah “Doing Army,” as he calls it.
Moenck said the Army has definitely been good to him. “I don’t regret it one bit,” he said. “You know, it’s tough at times when you have to be away from friends and family and loved ones. They’re worried about you; you’re in harm’s way. It’s tough for them to deal with and tough for you to deal with, but I don’t regret being in the Army one bit. I like most of it.”
Moenck graduated from Caledonia High School in 1996 and soon after began his Army career at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri, the Army’s state-of-the-art training facility where they train more than 80,000 initial entry, engineer, chemical defense and military police enlisted soldiers each year.
He has been Army his whole career. He spent three years “active,” stationed in Ft. Lewis, Wash., with the 25th Infantry Division and then went to Korea for a 15-month tour with the 2nd Infantry Division. Korea was considered a potential combat area because of the demilitarized zone. Moenck was one of 20,000 troops stationed there in 1998 through 1999.
“We got a separate Korea Defense Medal for being there, and serving there qualified servicemen to be VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars) members,” Moenck said.
From that point, he chose to leave the regular Army and joined the Army Reserves and has been with the 389th Engineer Battalion out of Decorah, Iowa, ever since. He’s been deployed twice from that Decorah unit, once to Iraq and once to Afghanistan.
Boots on the ground
His first deployment, to Iraq, was right when the Iraq war kicked off in May 2003. “We were the first push going in,” Moenck said. “I spent 12 months boots on the ground without coming home.” Currently, in Decorah, Moenck is an Engineer Platoon Sergeant. As Sergeant, he was deployed from March 2011 to January 2012 in Afghanistan.
“Afghanistan was a nine month tour,” Moenck said. “It was night and day from 2003 from Iraq to Afghanistan. In 2003, in Iraq, when we pushed up from Kuwait into Baghdad, we were sleeping in our semi trailers and then upgraded to army cots under a camo net. In the last few months of the tour, we were in an air conditioned tent, but in the heat of the day the AC could never keep up. In the shade, the heat got up to the mid 130s.”
Moenck said that 2003 was an exceptionally hot year in Kuwait and Iraq. “It was at the time the hottest place on earth. I’ve never felt any heat like that in Iraq and Kuwait in my life. It was like a blast furnace, and then mix in a sand storm. It’s like a super hot air blowing, and you’re sweating and stuff and the dust would stick to you.” Moenck said that they had to really keep on top of maintenance to keep their heavy equipment working under such conditions.
Iraq also came with camel spiders. “They’re part spider and part scorpion and run with their front legs up, and they’re bigger than your hand,” Moenck said. They’re mostly harmless to humans. Iraq also had scorpions and quite a few snakes. “There wasn’t a whole lot of wildlife in Afghanistan, but we saw a lot of snakes… and every snake in Afghanistan is poisonous.”
Moenck was emphatic that every soldier routinely checked their boots before putting them on.
Outside the wire
“When in Iraq, we were doing heavy construction with earth moving equipment,” Moenck said. “We built our first base. We built 25 miles of 14 foot high security berm around a fire base.” A “fire base” is a combat operating base, or COB. Moenck was also involved in building forward operating bases, or FOBs.
“We built numerous roads. When we weren’t doing nomad building, we supported a lot of the units and bases and worked to build up bases.
“One of our primary jobs was to build bases up for the active military to utilize and we would always have side missions where we would have go ‘outside the wire.’ Quite often we would have to knock down sniper buildings and enemy positions and we would take fire. We would also recover destroyed equipment and crashed helicopters. To keep troops safer, we would knock down miles of walls because the Taliban would hide behind them.”
All of their heavy equipment was shipped by sea to Kuwait from Fort Leonard Wood. Their unit stayed in Kuwait until they had everything, then they trucked it all up into Iraq.
There was no SOS
“Depending on where you were in Afghanistan or Iraq, most of the dining facilities were contracted out,” Moenck said. “We had South Africans in Afghanistan and in Iraq they were Indians. For holiday meals, they put on just unbelievable feeds with ice sculptures with crab and lobster. And for Thanksgiving, there were cranberries, turkey, ham, everything. They did a good job of taking care of the soldiers and you get a little bit of a slice of home, minus the family being there. But, it’s a great dinner with your Army family.”
Once in awhile during the end of the Iraq deployment, the troops would get some Sundays off and they could fish in the moats around Sadam Hussein’s palaces. “He had palaces all over… full of gold, chandileers, everything,” Moenck said. During his time in power, Sadam built between 80 and 100 palaces and the moats of each held different kinds of fish. Pirhanna were in some; others had trout. The sort of fish Moenck and his troops caught were a sort of shad.
In 2004, Moenck’s company returned to an Air Force base in Illinois. “We got on charter buses and went back to Fort Leonard Wood to demobilize and out-process. About 10 miles from Fort Leonard Wood, we picked up police escorts with flashing lights and sirens and we were treated like royalty. We blew through the gate at the post with the guards waving us through. Civilians driving around the post would stop their vehicles and give us thumbs up. It was unbelievable. The same thing happened when we went from Fort Leonard Wood back up to Decorah. We had police escorts from about 20 miles out of Decorah and they escorted us all the way back to Decorah. And we were flying really fast. It was the same for Afghanistan when we returned to Decorah with the same police and sirens.”
A few awards
Moenk has earned almost 20 awards all together. A few are:
• Meritorius Unit Commendation – Iraq.
• Armed Forces Reserve Medal.
• Army Commendation Medal.
• Army Achievement Medal.
• Meritorious Unit Award – Afghanistan.
• Iraq Campaign Medal.
• Good Conduct Medal.
• Reserves Overseas Training Ribbon.
• Active Duty Overseas Ribbon.
• NATO Ribbon – Mission in Afghanistan.
• NCO Development Ribbon.
• Army Service Ribbon.
• Korea Defense Service Medal.
• Global War On Terrorism Medal.
• National Defense Ribbon.
• Combat Action Badge.
• Driver Badge.
• Marksmanship Badge.
• Cavalry Order of the Combat Spur. Awarding of a spur is a special and rare honor, not usually given to a non-combat platoon. Moenck wears the spur only for formal military events. Moenck’s
certificate reads: “SFC Timothy Moenck with carbine and Colt having followed the Cavalry quid onto the very frontier of the free world and having demonstrated the skill, fitness, desk, discipline and cunning of a United States Cavalry Trooper is hereby entered onto the rolls of The Order of the Combat Spur and is awarded a pair of Cavalry spurs which will be worn at all formal Cavalry formations.”
The highest award Moenck received is the Bronze Star For Exceptional Meritorious Service. His certificate reads: “For exceptionally meritorious service as a platoon sergeant while deposed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. His outstanding performance, expertise and dedication to duty greatly contributed to the success of the unit’s mission. Sergeant First Class Moenck’s distinctive accomplishments reflect great credit upon himself, 30th Naval Construction Regiment and the United States Army.”
Moenck was “in country” when both Sadam Hussein and Osama bin Laden were captured, so his friends like to say that Moenck is secretly an agent and had something to do with capturing these two.
The American flag flying over the base the day that bin Laden was captured was Moenck’s. He has it flying in his garage today. The documentation reads: “Operation Enduring Freedom. 1st platoon, 322nd En Co., 368th En BN. This American Flag was proudly flown on the day of the defeat of Osama bin Laden, 01 May 2011, closing one chapter in the global turmoil sparked by the September 11 attacks on America that killed 3,000 people in 2001. This is to verify that on 30 April 2011 to 05 May 2011 this American Flag was flown over Afghanistan during 1/322 Engineer Company Operations at FOB Masum Ghar.”
You build a lot of trust
Moenck works as a heavy equipment mechanic at Fort McCoy as one of the shop foremen for the federal governement. So, even when he’s not “doing Army” during his reserve times, he’s doing Army every day.
Moenck earned a lot of great friends during his career. “You know that one of my favorite things about serving is the comaraderie.” Moenck said. “Especially in combat, you’re really, really relying on that guy beside you. You build a lot of trust.”