A Clintonville native recently encountered a piece of his hometown while serving overseas.
Senior Airman Colin Baker, a 2006 Clintonville High School graduate, was unloading equipment at an Afghanistan airbase when he discovered that some of it had been manufactured by Utility Tool and Trailer in Clintonville.
“I have served our country in the US Air Force for four years. On the Fourth of July, 2007, I was deployed to Iraq, where I was stationed in Balad Air Base until February 2008. I have also deployed to Camp Bastion Afghanistan in 2009 and 2010,” Baker said. “I am an Air transportation specialist. When not deployed, I’m stationed at Pope Air Force Base in Fayetteville, N.C. My job in the Air Force is to load and unload equipment, military vehicles, cargo and passengers onto any government aircraft.
“On my last deployment to Bastion Air Base in Afghanistan I was in charge of ramp services. Ramp service main job involves loading and unloading all American, Russian, French, Australian, Canadian, Italian and the occasional British aircraft,” Baker continued. “All of these aircraft brought badly needed equipment, military vehicles and supplies to the forward Marine base around the clock, seven days a week.
“I was on a C-17 getting ready to download six rolling stock when a Master Sergeant that happened to be from Wisconsin told me that the trailers we were downloading were from Wisconsin. I looked at the VIN plate on these trailers and saw that the trailers were from Utility Tool and Trailer, manufactured in Clintonville, where my dad and step-mom Sandy live. I knew that my dad, Chris Baker, knew some people at Utility Tool and Trailer so I took some pictures and sent them to my dad. My dad then forwarded these pictures on to Utility Tool and Trailer.”
Utility Tool and Trailer has been building military trailers since the 1950s. The particular unit that Colin Baker found while on duty is the M353, a trailer that was last delivered to the military in 1989 by Utility Tool and Trailer. Company officials say the 3.5-ton, two-wheel general purpose trailers are used to carry air compressors, generators, and other service items. Utility Tool and Trailer made over 6,100 of these trailers in the late 1980s.
Colin is the son of Chris and Sandy Baker, Clintonville, and Elizabeth Baker, Monroe. He has one sister, Lauren, who is a student at UW-Platteville. Chris says his son’s passion for the Air Force began at a young age.
“I wasn’t in the armed forces; however, I have an uncle who is a retired lieutenant colonel in the Air Force,” Chris said. “He flew C-130s in Vietnam. Colin also works with C -130s, which, next to the C-17, the C-130 is Colin’s’ second favorite plane.
“Perhaps it may have a lot to do to me telling him about the C-130 (my favorite plane) when he was a little boy and telling him that my uncle Richard Owens flew the C -130,” Chris says.
Chris said it is tough to know that his son is often in harms way, and said it is difficult not being able to see him on a regular basis.
“The part that is the most unnerving when Colin gets deployed is knowing that he isn’t in the US, and he is in a country that is at war with the freedoms (religion, speech, etc.) that we enjoy every day in the greatest country ever. Knowing that Colin and our soldiers have to still fight for these freedoms is a scary thought. Also, you can’t hop on a plane or jump in car and go see him, or go to him in a time of need, that bothers a person.”
Fortunately, modern-day technology allows Colin to be in contact with his family in the US quite often when he is deployed. Chris said Colin’s accomplishments make the whole family proud.
“I am most proud of the person that Colin is,” Chris said. “Colin is a carrying, kind, honest, thoughtful and always happy person. I think no matter what you accomplish in life, as long as you maintain these qualities, you have accomplished what is important in life.”
Colin said he counts it a privilege to be able to serve his country overseas.
“Serving overseas is a privilege that I, believe it or not, look forward to,” he said. “In my career field, serving overseas gives us a chance to do new things with our job and gives us a break from our stateside rules and let us focus on ‘the mission’. It gives us opportunities to do things on aircraft that have never been done before; for example; MRAPS are armored vehicles that are taken outside the wire and are crucial in keeping personnel safe. When these vehicles get damaged, they need to be sent to Kuwait to be repaired. This process usually involves putting them on a semi-trailer and trucked for days on dangerous roads through Iraq and Afghanistan. Aerial Porters in Kandahar Afghanistan worked hard and developed a method to ship them on a C-17, cutting time in half and keeping personnel off of IED-laden roads. When we get to do things like that, it makes our job very fulfilling.”
Colin said there have been both memorable and forgettable experiences overseas.
“We get to do a lot of fun stuff to on our free time. I got to ride in an Air Force Blackhawk around the base with the doors open and my feet hanging out the side. It might not be that cool for people who do it as their job all the time, but it was pretty cool for me,” Colin commented. “I also got to do a sling load with two MH-53 helicopters, which is basically cargo that is in a net and a helicopter hovers a foot above your head. You then proceed to hook the net filled with cargo to the bottom of the hovering helicopter and then it takes off with it while you are underneath, and it’s in the middle of the night.
“The worst experience I’ve ever had while being deployed is probably the bathroom situation,” Colin stated. “For the most part, we used porta-potties in Afghanistan while it was 100+ degrees out. The locals stand while they number two-and they don’t have good aim.”
Colin said one of his favorite things about being in the armed forces is being able to tackle new projects and challenges constantly.
“My favorite part of my job is getting to do new things,” he said. “I’ve always loved airplanes and that’s why I joined the air force. I can’t fly them so I figured I might as well load them. Every load is different; we might have a C-17 come in with an M-1 tank on it that we get to download. The next two planes might be filled with helicopters followed by a C-17 with an amphibious assault vehicle that we get to drive off and go play with it in a field and not tell anyone. My least favorite part of my job is being stateside and sitting behind a computer and saying ‘yes sir’ and ‘no sir.'”
Overall, Colin said his service in the military has been very rewarding.
“The military is a great way to jump-start you into the real world. I joined two months after high school and am in my fourth year,” Colin explained. “I knew nothing about the military; no one in my immediate family was in the military and I’ve never known anyone in the military. I was scared at first but got used to it within the first six months. I was deployed to Balad Air Force Base, Iraq, eight months after I joined. I’ve had a great time in the military and have no regrets, but if you plan on joining, I would recommend going to college first and have the military pay for it and then serve as an officer.”
Colin recently received orders to deploy to South Korea. He will be leaving in March 2011.