From Fighter to Farmer: Sergeant First Class Dave Baumann
At 3 a.m. on Sunday, June 19, 2005, Sergeant First Class Dave Baumann began tearing apart a Humvee. At that late hour, the temperature would have dropped to 85°F. and the trucks would finally have cooled down from their daylong patrols.
With a flashlight and a few tools, the 20-year-old wheel mechanic headed to the Marine motor pool at a military base in western Iraq. After commandeering a power steering hose off a wrecked truck, Baumann returned to the Army service center.
Racing the sun, Baumann put the Humvee back together, packed up his tools, and took the truck off the jack stand. When the soldiers were ready for another mission in three hours, the Humvee would be ready, too.
As Baumann put the jack away, he heard what sounded like a Bradley Fighting Vehicle. It was actually mortars aimed at the base.
“At the rate they came in, there must have been multiple tubes,” he says. “After the first one hit, I pushed the jack away and jumped into a cement bunker. The last one hit 15 yards from the bunker. I’m very lucky that the first three were farther away.”
When the attack stopped, Baumann and four comrades came out of the bunker. Brushing off dust from the explosion, Baumann pulled the jack back out and returned to the newly damaged Humvee.
Once Baumann had the truck up and running again, he called his dad, Glenn, in Ashley, North Dakota. He wanted to know how the day was going. “I told him it was pretty quiet. I was just turning wrenches,” says Baumann. “I think I was more worried about my family back home than they were about me.”
Before he hung up, Baumann remembered to wish his dad a happy Father’s Day.
Born to serve
Before he was an army mechanic managing a fleet of 23 Humvees, Baumann was just a farm boy in a shop building racecars.
“We were always dragging junk into the shop and would start wrenching on it,” recalls Baumann. “I also worked for a guy in high school who had a body shop.”
If he wasn’t in a shop, Baumann was outdoors on a dirt bike or four-wheeler. He also picked up his dad’s favorite hobby – hunting.
When the time came to pick his next move after high school, the process of elimination made the decision easy for Baumann. “I knew college wasn’t going to work out for me because I needed to be more hands on. I like to be independent, so I didn’t want to just work for Dad,” he says. “Army was a good way to go, and I was a practical thinker.”
At 17 years old, Baumann needed a parent’s signature to enlist. For this reason, and given his love of tinkering, he signed up to be a mechanic. “It was practical to be a mechanic because I could use those skills down the road,” he says.
But practicality wasn’t the only motivation for Baumann.
“I always felt obligated,” he says. “It still seems to bug me. You have everyone else 7,000 miles away living in a tent and sleeping in a cot. I felt guilty.”
This need to serve was also in his blood. Baumann comes from a long line of servicemen, more than 10 on his mom’s side and seven relatives on Dad’s.
Going to war
In May of 2004, Baumann was five months into a yearlong tour at Camp Hovey in South Korea, shown at right.
At basic training in Fort Knox, Kentucky, and specialty training in Fort Jackson, South Carolina, Baumann was taught all aspects of military life as well as the essentials for a light-wheel vehicle mechanic. However, he still describes his first few weeks in South Korea as “baptism by fire.”
As the only wheel mechanic in his company, he dove headfirst into vehicle maintenance and received cross training on tracked vehicles and turrets.
Eventually, he settled into a regular routine, taking time to tour the country and the DMZ – the buffer zone between North and South Korea.
South Korea had not been Baumann’s first choice for a duty station. His recruiter had filled his head with visions of Hawaii beaches. But like his fellow soldiers, Baumann did his duty while counting down the time until the tour would be done.
By May, Baumann had seven short months until he could return to the states.
“That countdown clock was abruptly smashed when the commander pulled us all into a classroom to verify the rumors that had been circulating,” he says. “Captain Green told us, ‘Men, we are going to war.’”
Baumann felt like he had been punched in the gut.
“Some soldiers were crying, some were drinking, some were silent, and some were cheering,” he adds. “This I think was the beginning of where we transformed from being friends and coworkers to becoming brothers.”
Baumann called home to tell his parents the news: His unit was being deployed to Iraq.
Even today, he can barely describe what that phone call was like. “It was a tough thing to tell them,” he says when he finds the words. “My family came over two months prior to visit South Korea. They met the guys in the unit, the mechanics, and the platoon sergeant. They knew we had a solid group going over, so I think that helped a lot.”
Put Into Perspective: After serving in South Korea and Iraq, Baumann has a new perspective on the privileges and freedoms given to Americans.
Letting others shine
To some degree, that Father’s Day in 2005 was a typical day in Iraq for Baumann.
Every couple of days, rockets or mortars would be fired near the base. “If it was longer than three days, you were more worried that they were planning something big,” says Baumann. However, these weapons were unusually accurate.
For this, as well as a previous incident, Baumann was awarded the Combat Action Badge. To be given this award, you must be actively engaged with or engaged by the enemy. Earlier that spring, Baumann and base security fired on snipers in a building just outside of the base. With these two encounters, he met both criteria for the Combat Action Badge.
The solitary, stressful work on a tight deadline was also the norm. “Soldiers have enough problems going outside of the wire. They don’t need to worry if I tightened a tire or put on an oil filter right,” says Baumann, about the added pressure behind the maintenance work.
Baumann’s unit did three rotations while in Iraq. Three months on patrols, three months as base security, and the rest of the time was spent supporting artillery missions that were called in.
"I was supporting the artillery, keeping in the background mostly, and letting those guys shine,” he adds.
While Baumann did his best to ensure that Humvees didn’t break down and that artillery fired properly, patrols were still extremely dangerous.
Two of those on the front lines were his close friends: Specialist Bradley Beard and Sergeant Ismael Solorio.
Beard landed in Iraq a month after Baumann. He had also been in South Korea, but he requested the transfer to Iraq because “he thought it was important,” according to his father, Randall.
On October 14, 2004, a month after arriving in Iraq, Beard was hunting for explosive devices, an assignment he volunteered for, when a bomb went off. Beard and two other soldiers died from the explosion. He was 22.
By the time Baumann met Solorio, the young soldier has survived what in most cases is a fatal wound. On his first deployment to Iraq, he was shot in the head by a sniper.
“He had to eat through a straw,” says Baumann, who met the toothless soldier on his second deployment. “But that guy lit up a room when he came in. He was always checking in on people and always smiling. He never had a bad day.”
On April 9, 2007, during his third deployment, Solorio was out on a base when an improvised explosive device (IED) detonated near his vehicle. The 21-year old left behind a wife and a young daughter.
“Those guys were the heroes,” says Baumann.
In 2013, Baumann’s unit was activated again.
“I still want round two over there,” he says. “But I’m getting too obligated here.”
When Bauman left the Army in 2006, he wasn’t sure what his next step should be. He briefly enrolled at Colorado College, although he ended up not attending. When he came back to North Dakota, he also wasn’t ready to “just work for Dad.” So the young veteran worked in the oil fields in western North Dakota, helping on the farm in his spare time.
“Every year, I would take more and more time off to farm, until I quit in 2010 to farm full-time,” he says.
Baumann, along with his dad and brother, Jeff, farm more than 1,000 acres of soybeans, barley, and corn and manage a 500-head cow-calf operation. All three family members help with fieldwork. Glenn specializes in the genetics. As you might have guessed, Baumann maintains all of the equipment. At the right, Glenn and Baumann look at this year's soybean crop.
When the call came to serve again, Baumann thought about all of the responsibilities he had absorbed on the farm. “If I left for a year, I wasn’t sure what I would have to come back to, so I had to commit to farming,” he says.
One-year old Emerson was also on his mind. Now an animated 4-year old, his daughter is an excited, sometimes overeager, helper on the farm.
“She makes sure the horn works on all of the equipment we have,” laughs Baumann.
Emerson is already involved in the cattle operation. She owns the only red Angus on the farm: a red heifer named Ariel and her calf, Merida. Baumann insists the Disney princess names were her choice, not his.
In addition to farming and raising a daughter, Baumann also had one other major commitment: the National Guard.
“After I got out of the Army, I felt like something was missing,” he says. “I started talking to a few recruiters, looked at the Reserves and the Guard, and ultimately joined the Guard.”
As part of an engineer company (shown below), Baumann has assisted local communities with natural disasters, including the 2009 Fargo flood, 2009 Dickinson tornado, and the 2011 Bismarck flood.
“At Bismarck, I had just been promoted to squad leader. No one else was available during a night shift, so I ended up being in charge of an engineer platoon,” he recalls. “I had to coordinate to get dump trucks to the right location, make sure sandbags were delivered, and oversee that the dikes were getting built correctly. It was a challenge, but that’s what I’m looking for.”
When there aren’t emergency situations, Baumann’s company gets together for one weekend a month and two weeks a year for annual training.
Balancing the Guard and farming is tough, says Baumann, but it’s possible because Glenn steps in to help.
Baumann realizes that not all farmer veterans have a partner who is willing and able to help. And that many face the same dilemma he did when another deployment comes up: If I leave, will I have a farm to come back to?
When Baumann heard about Farm Rescue, he wondered if the same concept could be used for military families. Farm Rescue is a nonprofit organization that steps in to help farm families that are dealing with major illness, serious injuries, or a natural disaster.
“I have seen excellent soldiers leave the service because they are unable to dedicate the time and commitment needed to the military as well as to their farm,” says Baumann. “I believe this would take a major burden off the shoulders of the deployed soldier and their families as well as show an incentive to retain farmers in the military.”
While nothing formal has been implemented, Baumann has brought the idea before state military leaders with ag backgrounds.
In the meantime, Baumann has become a resource for local veterans. “They will tell me about their situation and how they are unable to get help,” he says. “I’ve made reliable connections at Veteran Affairs, so I can give them the number of the individual they need to speak with to get the services they deserve.”
Balancing the Guard and Farming: Baumann explains how he manages farming responsibilities with the National Guard as well as one additional perk of serving in the Guard.
Home on the farm
In 1892, Karl Baumann, an immigrant from Germany, purchased a sod house for $2.50, two oxen, and a stone boat in Ashley, North Dakota. This was the start of the Baumann family farm.
Today, Karl’s grandson, Ray, still helps out on the farm. The 93-year-old is responsible for mowing the lawn, which he does one hour at a time.
He believes his son, Glenn, and grandson, Dave, are doing a “good job with the farm, so far.” They keep the buildings up-to-date, especially a beautiful barn Ray and his father, Oscar, built by hand in the 1940s.
He isn’t so sure about the placement of a new grain bin, but he holds his tongue.
“I’ll come out as long as the farm is here to see and look. But I don’t say anything anymore,” he says.
He’s just glad that the farm will continue, even after he’s gone. And he’s thankful that Dave and his brother will be here to “take over after Glenn isn’t here.”
Ray is proud of Dave’s service in the Army and now the National Guard. But he’s a little skeptical about his worthiness for the Fighter to Farmer award – at least on the farming side.
“If he sticks with it 50 years, then I think he deserves it,” jokes the lifelong farmer. “He has a long time ahead of him. He’s doing a good job. He’s interested in it, and that’s the main thing.”