Army National Guard Staff Sergeant Karen Knock-Lucas, of the 229th Engineer Company, will be the featured speaker at the Crawford County Veterans Day program on Wednesday, Nov. 11 at 7 p.m. at the Soldiers Grove American Legion Clubhouse on Highway 61. The 1996 Seneca High School graduate and new Richland Center veterans service officer, who spent two deployments overseas in Iraq and Afghanistan, was honored to accept the role when asked. She plans to tell war stories of veterans and what they’ve been through and encourage the crowd to talk and listen to veterans whenever possible.
“Come to Soldiers Grove. Shake the veterans’ hands and honor and respect them,” she said. “Take the opportunity to listen to their stories. Especially when a WWII, Korean and Vietnam veteran starts to tell a story, we need to drop everything and listen.”
Knock-Lucas is originally from Ackley, Iowa, and moved to the Seneca area later in her school years. Her parents purchased the Falling Rock tavern. Her grandfather, father, godfather and uncle were all in the military—all Army, except her father who was in the Navy. “Every generation had fought, so it felt absolutely natural for me to join,” she stated, noting that she met her husband, Paul, through the 229th and her 17-year-old son, Jesse, leaves for the Army in June.
Knock-Lucas joined the Army right after high school, before 9-11.
“I’ll never forget 9-11. We were in map reading class and the doors in the back of the classroom came bursting open, and my first sergeant of basic training said, ‘they just bombed the Twin Towers,’” she recalled. “The night President Bush made his address, we were in a field exercise and it was lightening and thundering. We were under a shelter listening to his speech on a truck radio. I just smiled and said, ‘We’re going to war.’”
In her very first experience with the 229th, around February of 2002, Knock-Lucas boarded an airplane and went to Nicaragua to run equipment and rebuild infrastructure. They rebuilt roads, poured concrete for school foundations and dug trenches for water lines to provide water for people who had never had water before.
“It was such a culture shock,” she commented. “The police carried AK-17s on their person at all times. The weather would go from 100 degrees to pouring down rain. There were vultures everywhere and pigs slept in our tent with us.”
Two months later, her unit was called up to go to Iraq.
“We were called up on a Wednesday and left on a Friday. You try to get everything in your life in order in two days,” she added.
Next, she spent time at Fort McCoy, which was a gathering unit for soldiers from across the U.S. heading to Iraq. She spent a solid 12 months boots on the ground overseas and another six months active on either side of her deployment.
“When we came home from Iraq, Prairie du Chien threw us a parade. The streets were full of people; it was amazing,” she remembered.
Her second overseas deployment came in 2012 when her platoon was chosen to do forward operating base (FOB) expansion in Afghanistan. They were there from August of 2012 through July of 2013. She said the country was so different from Iraq. The landscape was all sand, compared to mountains, and temperatures would be 30 degrees different in cities just hours from one another.
“Everybody needed our help there,” Knock-Lucas said. “We helped with helipad construction, drainage operations, we built Hesco [barriers] and we even went to Naval bases.”
These days, life is a bit quieter than it was back then for Knock-Lucas and her small family, though she remains active in the Army National Guard. She anticipates signing one more six-year enlistment before retiring. For now, she wears many hats as a staff sergeant of the 229th. She is the master driver of the unit and when new bulldozers and scrapers are acquired, she does job training on those as well.
She attends “tons of behind-the-scenes training,” such as combat lifesaver school. She’s a master resilience trainer, suicide prevention trainer and crowd control trainer. Through this work, she’s traveled around the United States to places like Hawaii, Florida, the Virgin Islands, Alaska, etc.
Knock-Lucas also participates in flood detail where the soldiers help fix infrastructure. She’s been in cities such as Gays Mills, Viroqua and Westby under these duties.
Plus, as the Richland County veterans service officer, she is continuously assisting veterans of all ages with all needs.
“We basically act as attorneys for the Veterans Administration. I put together cases, file claims, put together evidence and submit arguments for the veterans. I also help them sign up for programs, fill out paperwork—any need they might have,” she said. “I see three to 12 veterans a day. The job never gets boring.”
This Veterans Day, aside from speaking to the Veterans Day program audience, she is also talking at the Kickapoo Schools’ veterans program. She said she’ll be explaining “what a vet is and how young men and women can become one.” In addition, she has been invited to the Seneca Veterans Memorial dedication. She’s overjoyed to have all these commitments on Wednesday too.
“There are people whose jobs don’t allow them to take off work and observe Veterans Day,” she said.
But she gets to take time out, not only to reflect on her own experiences as a veteran, but also to honor the others who’ve served.
“If you meet somebody who is wearing a Vietnam hat, ask them when they served, what their job was—easy questions. That gives them room to respond as they see fit,” Knock-Lucas proclaimed. “Tell them what they did was awesome and outstanding. I know some amazing veterans who, when you feel like shutting down and quitting, their experiences keep you going.”
By Correne Martin of the Courier Press, Prairie du Chien, Wi