A portion of my Army Commendation Medal I received for service in Iraq reads,
“SPC REPPENHAGEN displayed professionalism and personal courage when Hib Hib Iraqi Police Station came under attack. The police station sustained a volley of RPG fire and he immediately began plotting and coordinating an indirect fire mission. SPC REPPENHAGEN’s quick thinking under fire ensured that an immediate retaliation against anti coalition forces was possible.”
I earned the award one night on a sniper mission on top of the Hib Hib police station, in the same town Abu Zarqawi was killed one year later. The police station received threats from the insurgency, so we deployed our sniper team on the roof for a few days. It was in the heat of the summer, and at night, many Iraqis sleep on the roofs of their homes. The police had pulled four beds to the roof so the police could take cat naps if there wasn’t anything happening in town. The main street ran pass the station a football field away across a crated dirt lot with concertina wire that made me think of a World War I battle field.
Early in the night of morning, while fighting off the bugs and sleep, we watched three vehicles roll slowly down the main road and by the empty lot. They went down the street and disappeared behind a thick strip of palms along a wide canal. It was strange to see the three vehicles close together at that hour, but we felt foolish to call them in to base, so we waited and watched. Minutes later the loud bottle rocket fizz of RPGs arced over the palms towards us. INCOMING!
The first was a direct hit on the back part of the roof. Pieces of bed frame scattered across the flat building. The Iraqi Police screamed as one pounded the lot and another struck the side of the building. We toppled clumsily with the impact, trying to move to firing positions. Casey fired the 240 machine gun into the palms and Murphy popped grenades with his under barrel mounted launcher. Nothing reached or penetrated the trees, not even the infrared vision in our sniper scopes. RPGs kept slamming the compound.
In the confusion and helplessness I scrambled for the radio and the map. I had marked the canal’s position the night prior, along with several other reference points, and adjusted 50 meters right. I called in to the mortar team on the base and quickly established a grid for a fire mission. Tense moments passed as a few clicks away the infantry men got their mortars tubes oriented. The police dragged the wounded and dead down the concrete stairs into the building, so we were the only ones top side to see the mortars rain down onto the enemy’s position. The palms parted and swayed with the blasts, and plumes of dirt and vehicle parts splashed over the trees.
My familiarity and use of all of the tools I had made the difference between life and death.
In the US Cavalry I found that a majority of training for service members involves becoming proficient in the equipment issued, to trust it, and to utilize your team members. Whether it was an M-16, a Humvee, a Med Kit or a radio, once we could get the maximum use out of the tools we were issued, we could organize and execute a plan that could accomplish any mission. I had complete confidence in my comrades and I knew the tools I had like the back of my hand.
Today we veterans are coming home to a changing economy and a civilian world that seems some what foreign to the military community. Our peers that chose not to serve are excelling in school and the work place. Veterans are struggling with high drop out rates, unemployment, and homelessness, which leads to depression, substance abuse and accelerated mental health issues.
Our new goal is to transition into society, to conform, to adjust. Many people treat veterans as people that need to be supported or cared for, or fixed, like we are damaged goods. However, I see veterans as an immense untapped resource for our society. We have some amazing skills of leadership, and performing under immense pressure in the most hazardous environments. Veterans have strong values and work ethic, and a sense of service. It is not surprising many of my friends have entered careers of EMT, police and fire fighters, and many go back into the military without being conscious of what it is they miss.
We veterans have the base qualities that make natural leaders, give us the tools and the training to use them to make a real difference. In the difficult times that our nation faces, why not turn to the new generation of warriors emerging, and allow them to lead a new mission of restoring our country’s environment, economy and communities?Garett Reppenhagen
OIF Veteran 1st Infantry Division
Regional Program Director