SAC COUNTY - Gordon Mooney was driving an enormous truck in Iraq one day in 2004 when a rocket-propelled grenade sailed over the vehicle.
That was the first of three close calls the rural Sac County man experienced during his Army Reserve duty in Iraq. Before the end of that year, Mooney traveled through a large ambush and later escaped death from an improvised explosive device because armor plating had just been added to the truck he was riding in.
Mooney originally wasn't even supposed to be in Iraq because his retirement after 24 years of service in the Army and Army Reserve had been approved the previous year.
-Messenger photo by Bill Shea
Gordon Mooney, of Sac County, uses a cloth map of Iraq to show his wife, Margaret, where he served during Operation Iraqi Freedom. He was a member of the Army Reserve unit in Sac City who was temporarily assigned to an outfit from Kansas during that war.
''I'm very proud to have served,'' he said. ''I thank God every day that I was born in a country where we can be free.''
He said that whenever someone thanks him for serving he asks them instead to thank his family. He said that during the year he was in Iraq, he always knew when he was in danger and when he wasn't. His wife, Margaret, and their two daughters, he said, never knew when he was in danger and always worried.
''Thank them,'' he said. ''They had it harder.''
Mooney's Army career began on Sept. 23, 1980, when he enlisted.
''I was going through a divorce and I needed to find myself,'' he said. ''My joining the Army wasn't anything heroic. I needed to find a foundation.''
He reported to Fort Benning in Georgia for basic training. He stayed at the post for advanced training in the use of the tube launched, optically tracked, wire guided missile, better known as the TOW missile. Mooney said it's a weapon used to destroy enemy tanks and vehicles.
His training completed, he was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, which is part of the 3rd Infantry Division. The unit was stationed at a base in the southern part of the former West Germany, near the border with communist Czechoslovakia.
Life there was a routine of training and equipment maintenance while remaining ready to deal with any kind of communist aggression.
''We were pretty much ready to lock and load if we needed to,'' Mooney said.
He returned to Fort Benning and was discharged on Aug. 31, 1984. At the time, he thought he was done with the military. Then he was contacted by representatives of the Army Reserve unit in Sac City, and he decided to enlist in it. He became an Army Reserve soldier in April1 985.
When Mooney joined the unit, it specialized in artillery. It later was transformed into today's 482nd Transportation Company.
In January 2003, he submitted his paperwork to retire from the Army Reserve. About a month later, his unit was called to active duty for Operation Iraqi Freedom. He was at home packing his duffel bag when he got a phone call from the Army Reserve informing him that he was not going to deploy with his unit. He was told that something was found in his personnel file that would prevent him from going. He later learned that what was found was the forms approving his retirement.
Although his retirement had apparently been approved, Mooney found himself abruptly called back to duty in November 2003. He was sent to Great Bend, Kan., and assigned to the 443rd Transportation Company (Heavy Equipment Transportation). The unit operated tractor-trailer trucks that have nine axles and are designed to carry tanks.
In January 2004, members of that unit flew to Kuwait. Two weeks later, they entered Iraq. There, they were stationed at Forward Operating Base Speicher near Tikrit.
Mooney was driving one of the big rigs with an armored personnel carrier on the trailer on April 11, 2004, when the grenade was launched at his vehicle. A soldier in the armored personnel carrier returned fire with its machine guns.
''You see the trail of the RPG going over and then you heard the .50 calibers,'' he said.
On Aug. 3, 2004, Mooney was riding in what he called the biggest and slowest convoy he was ever part of when it entered Mosul.
There was an outdoor marketplace in Mosul which was vacant even though it was only about 11 a.m., Mooney recalled.
''It was ghost quiet,'' he said. ''I'm thinking this ain't good. We've got to drive through there.''
His suspicions turned out to be well-founded. Enemy fighters in buildings, on roofs and in alleys along a three-block stretch opened fire. The soldiers returned fire.
''You just throw lead out there,'' Mooney said.
He got through that ambush unscathed. He was not as lucky when his truck was hit by the blast of an improvised explosive device on Dec. 1, 2004. He said the device consisted of two 155mm artillery shells wrapped in plastic explosives.
Mooney was tossed about the cab of the truck and suffered cuts on his face.
He still has pieces of the shrapnel that tore into the truck.
He left Iraq in January 2005 and finally retired from the Army Reserve in May of that year.