One day before the nation observed the 15th anniversary of the
Sept. 11 terror attacks, senior Wisconsin National Guard leaders
joined fellow Guard members, family members and friends in
remembering Sgt. Ryan Jopek, who was killed in action near Tikrit,
Iraq on Aug. 2, 2006.
Jopek enlisted in the Wisconsin Army
National Guard in 2003 at the age of 17, one year away from
graduating Merrill High School in Merrill, Wisconsin. A member of
the 1st Squadron, 105th Cavalry Regiment, he deployed in 2005 with
Company A of the 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry Regiment to Camp
Navistar, Kuwait, where the battalion would escort military convoys
to bases throughout Iraq. He spent 208 days “outside the wire”
performing 78 convoy missions, some lasting a week or longer.
September 10, 2016 - A bronze plaque is unveiled during a
command remembrance ceremony for Sgt. Ryan Jopek's memory, and also
created an annual award for its enlisted Soldiers. (Wisconsin
Department of Military Affairs photo by Vaughn R. Larson)
“Ryan was respected by his unit,” said Capt. Jason
Reiman, Jopek's platoon leader during that 2005-06
deployment. “Dedicated to the mission, always humble, and
put his unit before himself. He was the quintessential
As a show of respect to its fallen Soldier,
the 1st Squadron, 105th Cavalry dedicated its drill hall in
Jopek's memory, “in recognition of his ultimate sacrifice to
his community, state and nation.” A steel placard bears his
name, and a bronze plaque bears his story.
father Brian Jopek, a retired Wisconsin Army National Guard
staff sergeant and an Operation Iraqi Freedom combat veteran
himself, noted that 16 years before his son's death, Saddam
Hussein invaded Kuwait. Then a member of a combat engineer
unit in the Kansas Army National Guard, the elder Jopek
missed deploying for Desert Storm by a matter of weeks.
After 9/11, he knew he would be called up, and in fact
deployed with the 139th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment to
Mosul, Iraq in 2004.
“I just had no idea, no way of
knowing, at that time that less than five years [after 9/11]
my eldest boy wouldn't be with us anymore,” Brian said of
Brian said he greatly appreciated the ceremony,
though Ryan would likely protest all the attention.
“To be honest with you, as much as I love and respect you
people, I wish we didn't have to do this,” Brian said. “I
hope you understand where I'm coming from.”
Don Dunbar, Wisconsin's adjutant general, acknowledged that
there are no words to take away the pain of losing a family
member in combat.
“I am reminded of how unfair, how
much disproportionate burden Gold Star families have to bear
when our country goes to war,” Dunbar said.
said that when he joined the military the country was at
“But nobody, nobody in 2003 could raise his or
her right hand — for benefits or any other purpose — and not
realize they were quite likely going to the combat zone,”
Dunbar said. “That took a special kind of courage for that
young man, still in high school, to make that commitment. I
think that picture shows an awfully confident young man.
“On this 10th anniversary, as we dedicate this hall, I
can't think of a more purposeful, meaningful, appropriate
thing for the Wisconsin National Guard to do — or for the
Light Horse Squadron to do — than to remember this
exceptional Soldier in perpetuity.”
the squadron had created an annual award in honor of its
fallen comrade. The Sgt. Ryan Jopek Memorial Stetson — the
signature black hat worn by Cavalry members — will be
awarded each year to the enlisted Soldier who best displays
Ryan Jopek's outstanding motivation.
formation with other Cavalry Soldiers was Sgt. Steven Jopek,
Ryan's younger brother. Steven was still in school when Ryan
deployed in 2005, and described the command remembrance
ceremony as “surreal.”
“They're all recognizing the
10-year anniversary of his death, and I feel like it was
just yesterday when time just kind of stopped,” Steven said.
“It means a lot to stand in formation with my unit, and
be a part of the unit he loved,” Steven continued. “It's
been my dream since I was 15 to be in this place and serve
with the people that Ryan loved so much.”
Joseph Ledger said Ryan's life was characterized by great
commitment to family, friends and the nation.
hearts are heavy even 10 years after his death, yet his
memory lives on,” Ledger said. “He loved life and taught us
how to stand up for what is right, no matter the cost. He
was willing to invest his life into others, even when faced
with adversity. He is greatly missed.”
Ryan volunteered for his last convoy mission, in part to see
Mosul and in part to help train the Soldiers taking over the
“His time in Kuwait and Iraq showed him what
it means to be there for the men next to you,” Brian said.
“I know he picked that up from his time in service.”
“This young man showed us all what
it's like to be a Soldier,” Dunbar said. “And if you think
about this flag that we serve, we owe our founding, and we
owe the country that we are today, to men like Ryan Jopek
who are willing to raise their right hand, earn the right to
wear a uniform and, when needed, when called, not shirk that
responsibility but go forth and do that job.”
By Vaughn R. Larson, Wisconsin Department of Military Affairs
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