By DIANA HAINES
One of the true gifts afforded a writer for a local magazine like Wilson Living is the people you get to meet and the stories you get to tell. This magazine is not controversial, exposing corruption and fraud in government or business. We are local writers that chronicle the lives of local people and the extraordinary things that they do.
Darin Koelliker is remarkably on his third tour of duty in Iraq. He joined directly after 9/11, driven by an overwhelming desire to make a difference in a world that seemed to be turning upside down. Sergeant Koelliker, based at Fort Campbell at that time, was among those first ground troops that entered Iraq in March of 2002. His four year contract was almost up in November of 2005 when a stop loss provision sent him to Iraq for the second time. This time he left a wife and 2 sons, the youngest of which was 3 weeks old, 6 weeks premature and diagnosed with multiple health issues including a high probability of cerebral palsy. His wife, Tiffany, remembers those days as very difficult. “I was really bitter when he left that time. Things were very hard for me and it seemed like I was just consumed with fear and anger.” The sergeant’s third tour began in December of 2009 with his unit from the National Guard and it was then that his wife found an inner peace. “Darin is really 100% military. He is not a cocky man. He is a modest person and he truly loves the work he is doing. If something happens to him while he is there, I know he died for everything that he believes in. There is such peace in knowing that his life makes such a difference.”
Sergeant Koelliker outlined for me a day in the life of a soldier on the ground in Iraq. Our mission here is a Personal Security Detail for the United Nations Assistance Mission to Iraq. We provide security for their mission around the Baghdad area. Each day is different but it starts out around 0430 or 0500 in the morning. We do physical training on our own or as a platoon. I live in a two man room with another sergeant.
Our missions can have different time frames. The longest has been almost 18 hours and the shortest, just a couple hours. I would have to say on average it is 5 hours with prep time. I think the thing I am most proud of is we were the only US Force out on the Election Day here. That was our 18 hour mission.
After our missions, we work on our trucks or just get down time. There is a great gym, a movie theater (not like the states) and a few stores here at our camp. We have good chow hall. They make all kinds of foods. There is one Iraqi restaurant, too. There is a basketball court and some volleyball courts. We have our times to relax, as much as you can here.
Also, our camp it located around one of Saddam’s Palaces. It still has damage from some of the air strikes during the initial invasion. It is interesting, to say the least, that I am living in the same place he did.
Sergeant Koelliker iterates that the United States is making a difference in Iraq. He would be a good judge of that having spent three of the last eight years in country. He hit the ground in early 2002, amid those tumultuous first days, and later walked the streets ensuring safety for the voters in that country’s democratic election.
Sergeant Darin Koelliker is not the only hero in his family. He is fourth generation military and has two cousins that are active duty, Cody Tribble, currently in Afghanistan, and Cora Beth Green.
There are also those nonenlisted heroes in the family and the most notable to Darin would be his wife Tiffany. She’s the woman that was left at home with two small children, one of which was premature and fragile. She’s the woman that believed that her fragile child would someday walk, no matter what the doctors said (and believe me, that 4 year old boy runs like the wind today.) She’s the woman that took on the added responsibility of raising her infant niece two years ago, because two small boys were not enough. She’s the one that has to make arrangements to take a sick child with a high fever from mononucleosis to the hospital in the middle of the night. She’s the one that supports her husband and cares for her family no matter what tomorrow brings.
“I’ve learned from this deployment that what I do with my time makes a difference in how I deal with my husband being away and constantly in harm’s way. I do what I can to give back. I am involved in PTO and do everything I can to help other military wives and families. We are lucky that we have a strong Family Resource Group (FRG) associated with the National Guard in Lebanon. We get together once a month. We get information from the commander and support from each other. I get help and I can help others. We just have to keep paying it forward. That’s how we get through.”
Sergeant Darin Koelliker spends all day, every day giving back and fighting for our way of life. Tiffany Koelliker fights the same battle as if standing by her husband’s side, except on American soil. Life doesn’t slow down just because the one you love is deployed.
Soldiers and the families they leave behind are heroes that walk among us everyday.
Diana Haines can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org