U.S. Army Spc. Matthew Moeller followed his big brother, Joshua, into military service.
But the path the younger Moeller has walked since his discharge has been his own.
On July 9, 2009, Moeller of Fort Wayne was deployed to Afghanistan, where, by many measures, he was assigned hazardous duty – as a driver of explosives-detecting vehicles that soldiers call Huskies.
The Army promoted the vehicles as helping to keep down the number of troops killed by roadside improvised explosive devices – known as IEDS – while ferrying supplies or securing territory.
While that has proved the case, the vehicles haven’t stopped many soldiers from being injured. And on Dec. 11, 2009, Moeller became one of them.
Moeller was driving a Husky on a mission outside Jalalabad when the vehicle took an IED hit – and then came under fire. Injured, Moeller went in and out of consciousness inside the vehicle’s boxlike cab.
We were pretty much ambushed, he says.
The road back from those injuries has not been easy. But now some area residents have banded together with local Realtors and an Indianapolis-based nonprofit, the Homes for Wounded Warriors program, to ease him; his wife, Sarah; and their 2-year-old son, Joel, back into a more normal life.
In Bay Meadows, a subdivision that straddles Fort Wayne and New Haven, they are going to build the Moellers a house. For free.
Moeller, 26, says the blast left him with back, shoulder and knee injuries and a concussion – his fourth or fifth since his deployment, he says. Ultimately, he was diagnosed with traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder – invisible wounds carried home by many veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan.
After comrades recovered him from the cab – the Husky blew into separate pieces, as it is designed to do, he says – Moeller was airlifted back to his base and, later, to a hospital in Bagram.
After several weeks of physical therapy – and some touch-and-go moments – he was returned to his post.
He tried to resume driving Huskies. But it proved difficult for him, and he was reassigned to driving vehicles less likely to take a hit, he says. Nonetheless, he completed his tour of duty.
But when he got back to the United States, he says, his conditions got worse. Not only was he in pain from his physical problems, he also had trouble sleeping and had bouts of depression and anxiety. His wife says he has suffered headaches and seizures.
He would just start shaking and stop breathing and wake up and not know what went on but be really hungry, says Sarah Moeller, 23. It was weird.
The two were married in September 2010 when Matthew was home on leave.
Moeller has now been medically retired from the military and declared disabled. He and his family moved back to Fort Wayne from Fort Riley, Kansas, in part to be closer to relatives – because with Moeller and a new baby needing care, Sarah says, they realized they needed support.
Moeller, whose parents are Mildred Jeane and John Carpenter and William John Moeller of Fort Wayne, attended Homestead High School. Sarah, a daughter of Greg and Cheryl Spaulding, grew up in the Bluffton area.
But the circumstances of their move left the family with few options, and for the past year, the Moellers have been living in a cramped, two-story townhouse in a neighborhood where shootings have rattled their nerves.
The stairs hurt his back and his knees, and his bedroom – he sleeps downstairs in the loveseat, Sarah says. Many days, she and Joel spend most of their time upstairs because Moeller tends to be able to sleep better in the daytime, she says.
Moeller says he rarely leaves the house.
I don’t do too good around people, he says.
Sometimes I’ll feel myself going into an anxiety attack. Sometimes I get frustrated and mad, and I don’t want to take it out on other people, or especially her.
In the next month or so, the Moellers’ living conditions will start to change, says Katrina Kay, executive director of the Upstate Alliance of Realtors in Fort Wayne, which is helping to raise money and coordinate the house project.
For the past couple of years, she says, even before meeting the Moellers, Upstar had designated the Homes for Wounded Warriors program as one of its charities.
Realtor Ann Marquardt of Fort Wayne, Moeller’s aunt, connected the family to the organization, and Upstar then committed to finishing a home for the Moellers this year, Kay says.
Last week, the group secured the donation of a lot. Custom homebuilder Carriage Place Homes of Fort Wayne has committed to building the home, she says; other donations have included title work and building supplies.
About $67,000 needs to be raised, and about $20,500 is already in hand, Kay says, adding that commitments have been made for much of the remainder. About $44,000 is needed to break ground, she says. Completion of the house is scheduled for mid-November.
Kay says one aspect of the Homes for Wounded Warriors program is that those chosen can help design their floor plan. For the Moellers, that will mean a 1,700-square-foot home with a great room, three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a sunroom, hallways wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair and a large garage.
Moeller says he hopes to work on his hobby, doing custom work on trucks and motorcycles, and possibly turn it into a small side business.
We are beside ourselves to be involved with something as awesome as this and to be able to give back something to hero veterans, Kay says.
An all-volunteer group, Homes for Wounded Warriors was founded by Marines veteran and Purple Heart recipient Markus Trouerbach of Indianapolis. He says the Moellers’ house will be the third new home for the group, which has also rehabbed two others in its three years of existence.
Moeller says he regrets having to leave the military. He jokes that he is a bit disappointed that he didn’t get to chase his goal of catching up in rank to his brother, a sergeant.
He plays down his combat role, saying many people confuse his job with that of the soldiers who would detonate the explosives his vehicle would find. That’s much harder, he says.
Despite his post-deployment struggles, Moeller says he believes serving in Afghanistan was worthwhile. He says there were times when other outfits didn’t follow the advice of his unit and took routes that hadn’t been cleared of IEDs – and people were killed.
I believe in the mission, yeah, he says. We had days when it just didn’t work out. (But) we all came home. Some of us, we got hurt, but we all came home. A lot ended up getting killed.
His wife, meanwhile, believes the new house will be a step in the right direction for their future.
It means a lot to us, she says.