SHEPHERD – A U.S. Army veteran in Shepherd is on a mission to raise funds to create a lasting memorial in Yellowstone County in honor of every Montana soldier killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Frederick Baker, known to his friends as Rick, grew up in Shepherd and Huntley and served as an infantryman in the military from 2002 to 2007. He now has his own metal fabrication shop, Metal Tech, in Shepherd.
The idea for a memorial originated about a year ago when Baker was in line at the Yellowstone County Courthouse DMV in Billings. He picked up a number and went around the building and stopped by the memorial garden on the courthouse lawn.
Looking at the names carved in stone in honor of the soldiers who died in Vietnam, Baker thought of Master Sgt. Terry Lynch. Lynch was from Shepherd and was killed in Afghanistan in 2009.
âWith that I was going to school here in Shepherd and Huntley, I knew him and his family. It made me moved and I started to think, well, there is no memorial for these veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq. I was like right away, if I do this tabletop thing and pull the trigger, I’ll have the ability to make it happen and that’s what I’m going to do it, âBaker said.
The table Baker mentioned is a four-by-eight-foot plasma cutting table. The tool allows Baker to create designs in a computer program and the automated machine will cut the designs into flat pieces of steel and aluminum.
He opened his manufacturing business about a year ago, cutting artistic designs into personal and business signs for homes and businesses. He started inside an eight-by-40-foot container parked in the yard of his house in Shepherd. Baker left the “CONEX box” about six weeks ago and moved into a larger retail space in Shepherd.
âIt kind of became that thing where one day I would make pie tins for my buddy at Outlaw Racing for soft hill climb bikes. And the next day I’ll do a trade sign for Montana Customs or something like that. There is never a dull moment. Sometimes it’s as simple as hooks for the farmer next door, âBaker said.
For the Montana soldiers killed in action memorial, Baker will do his best to create it, but he estimated it would cost $ 17,500 for materials and contractors to do the job he cannot, such as laying concrete.
âI will donate my time and my work to build it. We just have to raise the money for the stainless steel, the fasteners, the concrete. All the things I don’t do, âBaker said.
To start fundraising, Baker launched his Hoodies for Heroes campaign. For $ 45, people can buy a hoodie at production cost and make an additional donation to the memorial fund. Baker said 100 percent of the additional donations will go towards making the memorial a reality.
The sweatshirt is special because all the names will be printed on it which will eventually be engraved in the memorial.
âWe don’t lose if you buy a hoodie because their names are still there. They are honored. We remember them. Obviously, this will get attention and hopefully more money for the memorial, âBaker said.
So far, hoodies are selling like hot cakes. In the first two and a half weeks of sales, the first lot of 50 has so far grossed $ 400. Baker said there were around 14 hoodies left from the first batch on Sunday and had already ordered another batch.
âI am a metal maker. I am not a designer. I am not a merchandise seller. I’m not in retail, but it was the best idea I could come up with to fundraise to get this thing going, âBaker said.
Find a link to buy a hoodie on the Metal Tech website by clicking here.
The final location of the memorial was not set in stone, but Baker said he was sure he wanted it in Yellowstone County. He has been in contact with the Shepherd Lion’s Club and their members have offered to host something for Shepherd at the cemetery.
And Baker worked with Montana’s 13th District Court Judge Mary Jane Knisley on the possibility of adding a memorial to the Yellowstone County Courthouse Lawn.
âIt’s important for me to keep this thing inside Yellowstone County, which will happen. We’re definitely going to have something local for Sgt. Lynch, we just don’t know if it’s going to be this specific one or another on top of that, âBaker said.
While in the Army, Baker was stationed at Fort Meyer in Washington DC as part of the US Army’s 3rd Infantry Regiment. In 2002, he was deployed to Africa for a nine-month tour during Operation Enduring Freedom, spending time in Somalia, Ethiopia and Djibouti.
âWhen I was there they were called up for a deployment, which was the first time since Vietnam and they only took one company. Well, I was in this business, âBaker said.
He returned from his tour and spent time in Washington performing funerals for active duty members who were killed overseas. Baker said the perspective he gained from seeing families mourn at this funeral and National War Memorials in Washington underscored the need for a physical monument for the people of Montana.
âI think a place where a person can go and touch it and have something tangible. Feel the heat or the cold. A place to mourn. A place to be happy. A place to be sad and a place to go to pay homage to these heroes, because that is what they are. They paid the ultimate sacrifice, âBaker said.
Baker said he was ultimately honorably discharged from the military after being injured while fighting for the military’s world-class athlete program.
âThen I tore my shoulder off and had to have surgery on Walter Reed. It was the end of my military career. I ended up coming off with an honorable, service-related medical discharge for my shoulder. I’ve had four or five shoulder surgeries, but we’re still holding on, âBaker said.
Baker said he could have stayed in the military to rise through the ranks and become a sergeant, but he didn’t like the idea of ââbeing stuck behind a desk and instead returned to civilian life.
While trying to manage the pain from his multiple shoulder surgeries, Baker said he spent about 10 years after the military was addicted to opioid pain relievers. He said he had been sober for four years and his goal was to help other veterans with PTSD and addiction issues.
For the past two years, Baker attended MSUB at Billings, studying to become a licensed addiction counselor. To take the time to focus on himself, and not his full-time credits in school, Baker said he went back to working metal as a kind of therapy and then decided to open his business.
“I discovered that slowing down school a bit and evolving and spending more time in metal, creating things with my hands that I discovered became very therapeutic. Especially art. All the personalized commercial signs, the residential signs and stuff like that. Take something raw metal and be able to piece it back together and create it and make a custom sign or a custom fireplace, I find it great, super useful with regards to anxiety, sleep, sleep. depression. All of these things. I try not to take any medication. I try to work out at the gym, “Baker said.
âMetal has kind of come back into my life and it gives me something therapeutic and fun to do. People love them. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise.