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Matthew Molinski

Ohio History Connection
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00:00:00 - Introduction

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Segment Synopsis: Interview with Matt Molinski on October 8, 2015 at the Ohio History Center.

00:00:49 - Early Life and Childhood

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Segment Synopsis: Family Traditions of Military Service

- Grandpa had served as a military cook

- Point of family pride; mentioned often at family gatherings

- Grandfather’s military artifacts were family heirlooms

High school

- Attended high school in Woodford County, Kentucky

- High school was rural; participated in Future Farmers of America (FFA)

- Graduated high school in Findlay, Ohio, at 17 years old

- Participated in soccer and football

00:06:38 - Decision to Enlist

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Segment Synopsis: Military enlistment

- Took college classes in high school; but no particular career path yet; considered the Army

- Stepbrother Kai had enlisted in the 101st Airborne division

- Opted for the “delayed entry program” in his senior year of high school

- Influenced by the G.I. Bill and the promise of financial support for college

- Had to convince his mother to sign his papers

Initial Military Plan

- Signed up for a “2x4” contract – 2 years active duty; 4 years with the National Guard

- Didn’t initially consider enrolling in the guard; knew he had a way to transition to the Guard after two years of service

00:10:50 - Basic Training

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Segment Synopsis: Boot Camp/Basic Training

Basic training started 7 days after high school graduation (Ft. Leonard Wood)

Traveled Columbus to St. Louis; bus to Ft. Leonard Wood

“Classic military experience” – little sleeping; lots of structure; Molinski didn’t talk much during the beginning of it

Understood his commitment to the goals of service

Reception process: standing in a room, walking through a wall of immunization guns

Moved to Ft. Leonard Wood on “cattle cars”—wooden boxes without seats

Meaning of the Oath of Service first hit home at the beginning of basic training

Easy to think about; but becomes real very suddenly

All told: basic training was a good experience; most people get through it

Lots of camaraderie and close bonds with other soldiers

Memories of being asked to serve as a road guide; bayonet training

00:24:09 - MOS and Advanced Individual Training

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Segment Synopsis: Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) and Advanced Training:

Took up skills training as a combat engineer: esp. land mine demolition; some construction

Assigned to the 10th Mountain Division, stationed at Ft. Drumm, New York

First experience of “really” being in the Army

Pinnacle experience: out in the field for 2 weeks on a “field problem” assignment with Sgt. Lamont (Oct. 1996)

Mid-November 1996: Panama

Canada: “Winter Warfare School” Training

MOS was assigned based on scores on test (mental; medical; physical) and input from a career counselor at the station

Could choose from amongst a list of jobs, selected to meet Army need

Combat Engineers: worked in counter-mobility/mobility, bridges, construction, land mines work, road repair, bunkers, clearing obstructions, survivability

Military experiences/serving with the military:

Experience of “growing up”: meeting soldiers from East St. Louis and other places; Molinski had grown up in the suburbs of Columbus

00:33:26 - Fort Drum

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Segment Synopsis: Post-Winter Warfare Training School:

Worked at Ft. Drum in vehicle maintenance; field problems in the woods

Fortunate to have been able to participate in lots of trainings: Air Assault School; Light Lam. Nav. School; compass and map trailing

1997: served/trained in Islamabad, training the Pakistani Army and participating side-by-side with Pakistani soldiers in cultural events

00:40:02 - Transition to the Ohio National Guard, Adjustment to Civilian Life, College

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Segment Synopsis: 2x4 Service Arrangement:

Had been “all aboard” to stay with the active-duty Army forever

Eventually did transition to Guard; didn’t want to become jaded or burnt out

Never experienced a change in Stations

Went to the 1st Sgt; only option in the Army was to transfer to Ft. Hood, Texas

1998: transitioned to the Ohio Army National Guard (1 weekend/month; 2 weeks/year)

Joined an Engineer Unit, with lots of other former Active Duty folks

Experienced initial “shock” of re-entering civilian life from “Army mode”

Jan 1999: entered Bowling Green State University as an undergraduate student

Served with the OANG under the “traditional mode (1 weekend a month, 2 weeks in summer)

Sought out other friends with common interests; others with Army experience became the core of his friend group in Bowling Green

At BGSU, majored in Exercise Physiology and became involved in outdoor programs and leading outdoor trips; lead a group on a 40-mile Appalachian Trail hike. Sought out experiences akin to his active-duty Army experiences; drawn to using those skills

Guard Service: based in Wallbridge, Ohio; drilled in Tiffin, Ohio

00:49:14 - Civilian Life and Service, Move to Columbus

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Segment Synopsis: Transition to Columbus:

Served with his best friend (and eventual best man) Skip, who was his Platoon Sgt.

Commissioned as an officer: in ROTC, officers seemed to be able to get things done

Once commissioned, needed to be moved someplace with a vacancy

Skip had been promoted to St. Mary’s, Ohio; Molinski also called to train there

Outside/Non-Service Life Goals at the Time:

Civilian-side: working in dietetics; working for outdoor programs

Transitioned to his master’s program; still using military benefits; plus the added benefit of serving in the ROTC program

00:55:08 - Experience of 9/11

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Segment Synopsis: "2001: Molinski was a college student; commuting back and forth to Finlay

Sitting in the off-campus/commuter student lounge; saw it on TV

Had an immediate reaction; went home and saw the videos of the towers falling, and immediately called Skip

Called down to the Armory that evening – was told to be ready to deploy to Ft. Knox for Operation Noble Eagle; but slowly transitioned back to college life.

00:58:14 - Mobilization, Officer Training

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Segment Synopsis: Commissioned in May of 2004; had completed a year of his MA

Had been given a leave to do his officer basic course at Ft. Leonard Wood

With 3 weeks left to go, received job mobilization orders for January of 2005

Unit did pre-mobilization exercises at Camp Atterbury, Indiana

Molinski was engaged in November, got leave to go home in December, and was married December 22nd

Unit at Camp Atterbury was leaving for Kuwait to stage for entrance to Iraq

Became a platoon leader/commander for 30-40 soldiers; lead through 4-ish weeks of premobilization training

Went to Kuwait, and immediately found Skip in his unit; but Skip’s unit moved into Iraq, and Molinski stayed

At first, being near the combat zone “felt great”: Molinski had trained from 1996-2004, and it was finally time to “do it”; but, “didn’t think about the repercussions

01:02:36 - Deployment to Iraq (2004)

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Segment Synopsis: Assigned to the 612th Engineers

Stationed at Camp Liberty in Baghdad, along with three other companies

Serving a Route Clearance Mission: assault, obstacle clearance and fort improvement

Position: 1st Company Executive Officer: day to day administrative affairs; “beans and bullets”

Transitioned more into reconnaissance work; observing engineering

Doing initial fortifications and survey work at FOB Mahmudiyah? (former chicken factory)

Camp Liberty was essentially transient barracks; back and forth to Mahmudiyah, which was the only fortified position

Camp Liberty featured a larger convoy of gun trucks, equipped with welded steel plates

01:10:51 - Convoy Attack

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Segment Synopsis: Convoy suffered a fireball explosion; everyone survived

The mission, for Molinski, went from being a passion to a profession; after a car bombing incident, Molinski started to spend evenings memorizing maps, studying up on elements of Iraqi culture, etc.

Role as a platoon leader including explosive clearance; not enough EOD techs at the time, working to neutralize bombs

01:20:57 - Political Climate in Iraq, Culture on Base

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Segment Synopsis: Culture in Baghdad:

Big city; during the stabilization period, lots of pandemonium. Everyone did what they could to survive. There wasn’t constant bloodshed; but not much order, either.

Baghdad was a relatively normal city in export and import cultures; but some damage was sustained

Political climate at the time:

2004-2005: soldiers on the ground in Iraq had an awareness of the media climate back in the U.S.; finding an IED mattered, as did keeping Iraqis and Americans safe

Soldiers overseas were aware that they were acting in a public arena; individual actions mattered

Some parts of the situation overseas were confusing; American soldiers worked and studied hard to know how best to interact 

Culture on base?

Amongst the American armed forces, everyone had each others’ back, even across different units and branches of service

01:29:38 - Role in 2004 Iraqi Election

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Segment Synopsis: Platoon served in as route clearance/”breaching” along roads already blocked by something

In the build-up before the election, insurgents buried IEDs along routes to election sites; dug holes under asphalt and poured new asphalt over.

Molinski was asked to come down with an EOD tech from the Navy; EOD techs were rare at the time

In these days, clearing 5 kilometers of road could take 12 hours; roads were rigged up with landmines, booby traps, IEDs and everything else

Missions included discovering an IED the width of the road on one of the routes to an election site

“Breaching” process involved bridging the gap between planning and reaction

01:40:42 - Off-duty Life, Entertainment on Base

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Segment Synopsis: Skip and Molinski participated in Uno championships; received care packages

Soldiers serving on the mission formed a very close bond

Bonds between servicepeople were also forged through serious events: a car bomb detonated on top of the convoy

Levity helped everyone process the situation in the moment; many began to process the reality of life in a combat zone only after returning to civilian life

In many ways, because of the difficulty of transitioning back to life in the States, relationships with fellow servicemen and –women became more important after the deployment

01:49:47 - Communication Home

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Segment Synopsis: Communication with friends and family at home:

Communication with family and friends needed to be “politically correct”

Opted to send out newsletters; built a “fake reality” there to provide polished, sanitized news to friends and family

Lots of ability to talk to friends and family daily; but limited ability to discuss serious injuries or events

Didn’t communicate very often; and deliberately made the timing of communiques random, to not create false expectations (or worries)

01:53:51 - National Guard Structure, Service Experience

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Segment Synopsis: Managing people with existing life structures

Lots of camaraderie; the Guard, at the time, was very home town-centric

Guard structure guarantees that units can respond quickly to challenges; but it also cuts deeper if someone gets hurt (-vs.- the active duty model)

Active duty: maybe better at grinding it out; with the Guard, leaders need to check in on how their soldiers are doing

01:56:27 - Final Days in Iraq

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Segment Synopsis: Assigned to train the next group coming along: the active duty 101st

In standing the platoon down, Molinski often had to go on more missions; this work was especially dangerous, and it felt like the day to go home would never come

Phasing people off missions always difficult – going from everything to “nothing”

All told, Molinski’s papers clocked his deployment in at 365 days

Exited through Kuwait, where the unit waited for commercial planes

Flew back into Indiana for out-processing, paperwork and final medical checks

02:02:24 - Homecoming: Transition to Civilian Life

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Segment Synopsis: Transition to Civilian Life:

Difficult. Lots of acronyms and lots of swearing in the army; family needed to get used to that

Slowly became more aware that he had transitioned out of the role of platoon leader

Lots of self-reflection required around no longer being in charge

Difficulty with hearing “chatter”: had worn a head-set almost constantly during the mission

3-4 days after the return, lost a member of his platoon in a motorcycle accident; difficult, after bringing his platoon back home safe after so many close calls are hard decisions

Haunted by rethinking many of his difficult leadership decisions overseas upon return home

02:10:47 - Civilian-side Career Path

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Segment Synopsis: Worked for a retired Lieutenant Colonel

Took classes and worked at the same time; but had a harder time identifying with college students after his military and combat experiences in Iraq

Wife helped him with transition and career choices; Molinski initially felt paralyzed by all decisions, even choosing cereal for breakfast

Also struggled with commitment in school work post- return from Iraq

02:15:15 - Ohio National Guard Life/Career

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Segment Synopsis: Jan. 2006: Company Commander at St. Mary’s, Ohio

Skip served alongside him as a 1st Sergeant

Mass exodus: many Guardspeople left after the first deployment, because they didn’t want to get mobilized again

02:18:21 - Second Deployment to Iraq (2007)

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Segment Synopsis: Second deployment:

Returned home in December of 2006; and by December 2007, deployed again

This time, serving in convoy security

Same staging process: in via Fort Hood to Camp Virginia in Kuwait; then into Iraq

Served at a tiny base of around 500 people; not a bigger structure like in Baghdad

Ran security missions with convoys of 4 people; working to protect semi-trucks , which were tracking further into Iraq/Kuwait

2008 deployment was marked by a daily routine; “never fired a shot”

02:20:18 - Comparing Deployments

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Segment Synopsis: Differences between the two deployments?

Iraq seemed more secure in 2008 than 2004-2005; less danger, and soldiers got complacent

Lots of danger in that complacence; basic military procedures were still inherently dangerous

Reattached to Michigan Cavalry Unit; company was folded into the cavalry under Michigan command and control

Ohio companies maintained their reputation as Uno champions?

2008 missions were scheduled, with predictable patterns: 4 trucks rode out on convoys with 3 people to a truck; 3 squads of 8-10 people

Second mission seemed to lose cohesiveness ; fieldings CETS and filling in roles of specialties based on position; units were completely redesigned

More time off-mission; site featured a library and gym – was much cozier

units were managed at a bigger level than a platoon

Camp Virginia hosted an Olympics that year, with people from all over the world; really cool experience to see everyone cheering for each team

Southern Iraq/Kuwait deployment was a great exercise in becoming a company commander; learned a lot

Daughter had been born 6 months beforehand; Skip also had kids – many soldiers connected through the experience of being fathers from overseas

02:37:11 - Homecoming

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Segment Synopsis: Wrap-Up of 2008 Deployment

News of heading home came as a great relief; mission was becoming a bit monotonous/too regular; soldiers were losing their edge

This mission was less violent; easier to transition back to civilian life this time

Rode home, and borrowed a cell-phone to call his wife and family; family actually missed the ceremony, and wife came in during the ceremony. A picture of the reunion wound up in the papers.

Same thing happened with the unit as in the aftermath of the 2004-2005 deployment: mass exodus of many soldiers from the unit

6 months after return, called to head to Annual Training; this was the “straw that broke the camel’s back” for many servicemen and women

02:40:28 - Subsequent Service Career

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Segment Synopsis: The unit had changed dramatically since 2004; Molinski left and took a job at Battalion Headquarters in Springfield; but the job disappeared as the company was merged. Eventually applied to be a contractor with ROTC at BGSU

June, 2010: entered Active Duty with ROTC; ROTC was a phenomenal experience – journey from becoming a cadet to mentoring ROTC cadets

Joining ADG took a “leap of faith”; took a 6-month assignment in Columbus, followed by a permanent AGR; then worked in public affairs for two years, and then as a logistics officer in Newark, a battalion executive, and, finally, an Inspector General in Columbus

02:43:58 - Other Formative Experiences, Training Overseas

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Segment Synopsis: The experience of Iraq 2005 is embedded into memory

Memories of training in Michigan – blowing up tires and telephone poles

Opportunities overseas, to train in the UK with the Territorial Army in 2009 (their version of the Guard)

Of all of the service experiences, Molinski remembers his time in England the most fondly: American soldiers were treated so well; and had the opportunity to visit Gibraltar

02:50:46 - Reflections on Service

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Segment Synopsis: Military service isn’t just a hobby, it’s a profession – not just what Molinski does, but who he is

Molinski’s goal is to get out, but he somehow can’t – just keeps getting in, coming back

Military hardships make up a part of who you are

The Army is fueled by people. The general perception is that it’s just a machine, but it’s just people who make it what it is.

About combat: it’s an unfortunate necessary action; part of “fighting for your country.” At the lowest level, it prevents violence – reacting to violent aggression in the best way one can.

It’s difficult to ask servicemen and –women about the hard parts of their service. PTSD and other realties are OK to ask about. Molinski endured many experiences that are tough to talk about; but he’s still proud of those experiences.

Great value, from his military experiences: people matter.