By Linda Scherer
WINSTED, MN Sgt. Anthony (Tony) Fiecke, a Winsted native and a 1999 Holy Trinity graduate, calls his eight years of service with the Wisconsin Army National Guard “one heck of an experience.”
“It has been great,” Fiecke said.
Since joining, Fiecke has had two deployments to Iraq. His unit has also helped to build a clinic and school for an orphanage in Trinidad, and helped build fence and some low water crossings on the Mexican/Arizona border.
He had considered joining the armed forces as soon as he graduated from high school, but made the decision to attend St. Cloud Technical School for automotive repair instead. After graduating from tech school, he moved to Eau Claire, WI.
It took the terrorist attack on the US Sept. 11, 2001, at the World Trade Center towers in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, for him to finally follow through with his original plans, joining the Wisconsin National Guard April 20, 2002.
Fiecke is the son of Steve and Kathy Fiecke of Winsted. When he isn’t deployed overseas, reporting for monthly drills in Chippewa Falls, or attending annual training for the National Guard, he lives in Maple Grove. He works as a service manager at Firestone in Eden Prairie, where he likes his job and the people he works with. He has a 5-year-old son, Jacob.
On his most recent deployment to Iraq, January 2009 to February 2010, he served as a prison guard at Camp Cropper Theater Interment Facility.
Camp Cropper, near Baghdad, is a holding facility for “high-value” security detainees.
The facility was where former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was held prior to his execution, as well as some of Hussein’s family members, according to Fiecke.
“The best part of this deployment was working with the Iraqi corrections officers,” Fiecke said.
“Learning their pace of life, compared to a soldier’s pace, is a lot different. I think by the end of the deployment, they figured out a pace that was a little faster, or we just got a little slower.”
Fiecke added his second deployment was easier than his first because he knew more of what to expect, which meant less stress.
“But there are things you just can’t prepare for,” Fiecke said.
On his first deployment to Iraq, Fiecke served with a combat engineer unit from September 2003 to March 2004. He was stationed at Tallil Air Force Base, which is near Nasiriyah, and also had a couple of short stays at Bassira and Scania.
Fiecke worked in the motor pool, for the most part, doing rotations on the wrecker (tow truck) and the contact truck, which was a tool truck for quick fixes on the side of the road.
“This deployment was a lot of fun. I got out to see some of the villages and locals. We did our job and the unit did some really good things. They (his unit) fixed roads, built two schools, a hospital, and two base camps,” Fiecke said.
Because of the effort the US has made in Iraq to stabilize the country, Fiecke believes Iraq’s army and police should be ready to take care of their own country.
“I hope that I will not have to go back to Iraq,” Fiecke said. “I hope that they stick to the exit plan and pull the troops out of there.”
One of the benefits of joining the National Guard, according to Fiecke, has been the opportunity to travel.
“I had only been to Wisconsin and South Dakota before I joined the Guard,” Fiecke said. “Now, I have been to Texas, Florida, Ohio, South and North Carolina, Maine, Arizona, Kuwait, Germany, and Iraq.”
In addition, he was sent to Trinidad for his annual training in January 2008.
“We got really lucky,” Fiecke said of their trip in January. “Although, the people of Trinidad were not happy to see us. They thought we were taking jobs away from their economy.”
For the two weeks that he was stationed in Trinidad, Fiecke said he took a “ton” of pictures because of the beautiful scenery.
Fiecke was sent to Trinidad with the 829th Vertical Engineer Company. It was the first time the 829th, a brand new unit, had worked together on a project.
“We built a school and a clinic for the orphanage with the Navy SeaBees (Navy construction battalion (CBs),” Fiecke said.
Another interesting annual two-week training Fiecke was sent on was in January 2005, when he went to Arizona to work with the border patrol.
“I ran a backhoe the majority of the time that I was there. The last couple of days, I ran a road grader 20 miles out into the dessert and 20 miles back at a nice slow pace. Our job was to help improve the roads and the fence for the border patrol.”
Fiecke thought he remembered someone from the border patrol telling him approximately 30,000 people cross the border illegally each month.
“I know we did make it better down there for the border patrol,” Fiecke said. “Whether it stopped people from crossing, I am not sure. The border patrol is always asking us (National Guard) for help with operations down there.”
For the future, Fiecke is trying to keep life as normal as possible, but he is always ready for whatever the National Guard has planned including Afghanistan if that is his next assignment.
“The Wisconsin National Guard cannot deploy a Company for 18 months after it has come back from a deployment,” Fiecke said. “If we were going to get deployed again, it would be after that.”
“I hope we have a couple of years in between deployments, but if the company gets called up to go, that is what we will have to do,” Fiecke said. “Yes, I will be ready for that. Not that it is fun to be away for a long period of time, but it is always something that I prepare for.”
Fiecke is definitely considering re-enlisting when his contract with the National Guard ends April 19, 2015.