FORT MCCOY, Wis. –
In November 2004, the 617th Military Police Company of the Kentucky National Guard was one of many military units completing their mobilization at Fort McCoy for deployment.
It was in that month the unit wrapped up their training at Wisconsin’s only Army installation and prepared to head off to Iraq for a year deployment for Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Before they left, however, some members of the unit decided they'd put together a “time capsule” of sorts in a plastic drawer they got from the Fort McCoy Exchange, put some mementos in it, and stash it away in the walls of one of the hundreds of barracks on the installation’s cantonment area.
“I think the concept was we believed when we got back, we were we were gonna be able to open it when we (got back),” said Command Sgt. Maj. Timothy F. Nein, battalion sergeant major of the 198th Military Police Battalion of the Kentucky Army National Guard at Louisville. At the time, Nein was a staff sergeant with the 617th.
But after their deployment, members of the unit never went back to find their time capsule. Whoever stashed the drawer of mementos into the wall did it well because it remained undiscovered for 19 years. The time capsule was found in fall 2022 when contractors were beginning major renovations on 200 of the barracks at Fort McCoy.
When workers discovered the capsule, they made sure to give it to members of the Fort McCoy Directorate of Public Works, who in turn presented it to the Fort McCoy Public Affairs Office for eventual presentation into the Fort McCoy History Center.
Nein said he and probably everyone else probably never thought about the capsule until just recently when a member of the Fort McCoy Public Affairs Office contacted him to ask if he was part of the team who left their names on items in the capsule. When they came back from their deployment where every member of the unit faced combat engagement on nearly a daily basis, he said the time capsule was the furthest thing from their minds.
“It was a very long year,” he said.
How they got to McCoy
The 617th Military Police Company is part of the Kentucky National Guard. Soldiers with the company arrived at Fort McCoy in October 2004 to begin their mobilization for 30 days before deploying to Southwest Asia for Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Shortly after arriving, Nein’s unit was included as part of a Rapid Fielding Initiative. In the Nov. 12, 2004, edition of the Fort McCoy Triad newspaper, in a story written by Karen Mast, Nein and the 617th were mentioned about being a part of the initiative.
“Among those issued equipment were more than 150 Soldiers from the 617th Military Police Company, a Kentucky Army National Guard unit headquartered in Richmond. Staff Sgt. Timothy Nein believes the additional equipment will help his unit better achieve its missions in Iraq. ‘The additional clothing and gear makes our job more comfortable,” said Nein. ‘I expect we’ll be better focused on our mission, not on the heat or how we feel.’
“In addition to Nein, several other members of the unit returned from a 10-month deployment in Iraq last year and will deploy again with the 617th later this month,” the story states. “Spc. Joseph Fields said the new equipment would give the Soldiers a definite advantage over last time.”
Nein said the 617th trained hard while at Fort McCoy in all sorts of operations and skill sets. “I appreciated the mobilization process,” he said,
And when they were wrapping up their time at McCoy, that’s when they created the time capsule with the plastic drawer.
What was in time capsule
Some experts say people in the past have created time capsules to give the people of the future an idea of what their lives were like at the time the objects were placed in the capsule itself.
In the case of what found in the McCoy barracks, as Nein said, it was something they had planned to recover a year after their deployment — not have everyone forget about it for two decades.
“I think it was a real surprise to everyone to hear about it,” Nein said. “I posted pictures of it to the unit’s Facebook page, and of course it created a lot of discussion.”
On top of the white plastic drawer, someone wrote, “617th MP Co., 4th PLT DRAGONS, TIME CAPSULE, DO NOT OPEN TILL WE RETURN.”
Then within the drawer is a mix of stuff that Soldiers from the unit randomly placed into it. Many things were signed or initialed or had messages. Included were dollar bills, military coins, a pack of cigarettes, a can of snuff, two small New Testament books, a ball cap filled with many signatures, an old Happy Birthday hat that was signed by three Soldiers who celebrated birthdays in October 2004, a plastic badge, candy, a Six Flags season park pass for 2004, a CD case, air freshener, and shaving cream.
Soldiers who left notes on items within the capsule that were identifiable included Nein, Sgt. Mike Adams, Spc. Christopher Costa, Spc. Jason Mike, Sgt. Dustin Morris, Sgt. 1st Class Clyde Henderson, Sgt. Kevin Riddell, Sgt. Joe Rivera, Spc. Chris McClure, and Spc. Casey Cooper.
And some of the notes were interesting.
For instance, Costa left the pack of cigarettes with a tagged note taped to it stating, “16 NOV 04: A pack of smokes to commemorate those who left. We did our duty and made our country proud. We will never forget the sacrifices our brothers and sisters made.”
On a $1 bill, it states, “This is Sgt. Morris. I love my family & friends & I miss my dog. Lord, protect me.”
Mike wrote on another $1 bill, “Big Mike, Soldier Medic, OIF III, Medics Lead the Way.”
“Jason was our medic and a guy bigger than life,” Nein said. “Just a great guy overall.”
For the ball cap that was in the cache of items, Nein said it wasn’t anything special. He thinks it was probably something they would all end up having a laugh about when they returned for de-mobilization at McCoy in late 2005. But that never happened.
“I remember signing that,” Nein said. “I don't know if it’s something we found. I don’t ever remember anyone wearing it.”
Nein admitted there was probably no special meaning behind anything placed in the capsule, but now looking back it does bring back fond memories of his teammates who he trained with and fought with.
After leaving Fort McCoy and the time capsule behind, the Soldiers with the 617th went on to a deployment in central Iraq that was not only a year-long but was as Nein described as very intense and difficult.
“We deployed to Baghdad, Iraq, and we ran military police patrols for the most part,” Nein said. “We did some convoy escorts but the majority of it was support to the main supply routes keeping them clear and free from enemy activity.”
The daily patrols meant encountering improvised explosive devices (IEDs), enemy fire, and more, Nein said. In the time capsule, Sgt. Joe Rivera left his 2004 season pass for Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom as part of the mish-mash of items. Nein said Rivera is a leader and a fierce fighter and while out on one of those patrols in March 2005, Rivera received injuries in combat.
“He was injured during a gunfight and was medevacked,” Nein said. “He later received a Purple Heart and an Army Commendation Medal with Valor.”
And there were others, Nein said.
“So, of the 183 who went over, probably 50 percent received Purple Hearts,” Nein said. “Also two Silver Stars, multiple Bronze Stars with valor … multiple. I'm gonna tell you … (this is) probably one of the most decorated National Guard units for combat action in the Iraq conflict.”
Of the people mentioned who contributed items to the time capsule, in addition to Rivera, here’s what a few of them earned from the deployment:
— Mike: Silver Star.
— Cooper: Bronze Star with valor, Army Commendation Medal with valor, and Purple Heart.
— Morris: Army Commendation Medal with valor.
Others receiving awards were Spc. Ashley Pullen who earned a Bronze Star with valor, Spc. William Haynes II who earned a Bronze Star with valor, and Spc. Jesse Ordunez who earned an Army Commendation Medal with valor. Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester was also awarded a Silver Star, becoming the first female Army Soldier since World War II to earn a Silver Star. And of course as time went on there were others who earned awards as well — more than can be listed.
But for Nein, he also earned a Silver Star in 2005. However, in 2007, that award was upgraded to a Distinguished Service Cross.
According to a Feb. 21, 2007, American Forces Press Service article, is states Nein became “the first Guard Soldier — and only the fifth servicemember overall — to receive the Distinguished Service Cross. The Distinguished Service Cross is second only to the Medal of Honor among awards for valor in battle.
“Staff Sgt. Timothy Nein received the medal from Lt. Gen. H Steven Blum, chief of the National Guard Bureau, at the National Guard Association of Kentucky’s annual conference (in Louisville) Feb. 17,” the story states. “Nein originally received the Silver Star Medal for his actions as a squad leader with the 617th Military Police Company during an ambush in Iraq on March 20, 2005, but the award was upgraded, a process culminating with the presentation.”
Future of the capsule
After two decades of the capsule sitting in walls of a barracks building at Fort McCoy, the items, as basic and ordinary as they might be, will make their way to a permanent display in the Fort McCoy History Center as some point. The items are directly connected to a time in the installation’s history where for a decade the installation mobilized tens of thousands of troops for Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom between 2001 and 2011.
The time capsule also connects directly to a unit that spent its time at Fort McCoy, then went overseas to fight in a war like so many Soldiers had done before them.
In Fort McCoy’s century-long history, units like the 76th Infantry Division and the famed 100th Infantry Division trained at Fort McCoy during World War II and went on to fight in the Battle of the Bulge and in Sicily and the Pacific. And now the 617th and the actions of Nein and his unit in Operation Iraqi Freedom continue that heritage of fighting spirit that Fort McCoy has supported for so long.
Fort McCoy’s motto is to be the “Total Force Training Center.” Located in the heart of the upper Midwest, Fort McCoy is the only U.S. Army installation in Wisconsin.
The installation has provided support and facilities for the field and classroom training of more than 100,000 military personnel from all services nearly every year since 1984.
Learn more about Fort McCoy online at https://home.army.mil/mccoy, on the Defense Visual Information Distribution System at https://www.dvidshub.net/fmpao, on Facebook by searching “ftmccoy,” and on Twitter by searching “usagmccoy.”
Also try downloading the Digital Garrison app to your smartphone and set “Fort McCoy” or another installation as your preferred base.