Ryan D. Jopek
- Cavalry Scout, Sergeant
- Served: Late 2003 – August 1, 2006
- Iraq Conflict – Army National Guard, 2nd Battalion, 127th Infantry Regiment, Waupun, WI
- Killed in Action, August 2, 2006, Tikrit, Iraq from an improvised explosive detonation near his convoy
“He was a hell of a guy, Mr. Jopek”
By Brian Jopek (Father of Ryan Jopek) of The Lakeland Times:
In 2010, I was in what turned out to be my next to last year of service in an Army National Guard career of just over 21 1/2 years. I joined in 1990, initially the Kansas Army National Guard transferring in early 2002 into the Wisconsin Army National Guard. My time in service included a deployment to Mosul, Iraq in 2004 and another deployment to U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, in 2008. In late 2003, my oldest son, Ryan, joined the Wisconsin Army Guard and while I was in Iraq during 2004, Ryan graduated high school in Merrill and then attended basic combat training and advanced individual training at Ft. Knox, Kentucky. In August, 2005, eight months following my return from Iraq, Ryan, by then a cavalry scout with the 32nd Infantry Brigade Combat Team, was deployed to a base on the Kuwait/Iraq border. From there, his unit conducted convoy security operations into Iraq.
By July, 2006, the unit set to replace Ryan’s unit was “boots on ground” and left seat/right seat missions were being conducted. Later in July, the night of July 23 to be exact, I received a phone call. It was Ryan calling me from Scania, Iraq. He wanted to let me know he had volunteered to go on a convoy mission to Mosul, where I was in 2004.
Ryan said he’d been trying to get there the whole deployment and a slot opened up and he decided to take it instead of continuing his preparations to come home with the rest of his unit. As it turned out, that was the last time I ever heard my oldest son’s voice, ever heard him say, “I love you, dad.” A little more than a week later, as the convoy his up-armored HUMVEE was in was making its way back to base on the Kuwait/Iraq border, the vehicle was hit with an improvised explosive device and my oldest son, Ryan David Jopek, was gone. The other three soldiers in the HUMVEE, with the replacement unit, survived the blast, the driver able to get the vehicle out of the “kill zone.” Fast forward That was August, 2006. Four years later, in 2010, I was, as I mentioned at the outset, in the twilight of my Army Guard career. Medical problems with their roots in my return from Iraq had by then, made me non-deployable and non-retainable.
So, for much of 2010, I spent a lot of time at the Middleton VA Hospital in Middleton, Wisconsin, for testing and so forth as the long, drawn out process to make a final determination of my future in the Army Guard by “higherups” played out. It was on one of these visits I had a younger guy in his mid to late 20s approach me in one of the hospital’s lobbies. He had recognized the name “Jopek” on the side of the ball cap I was wearing. “Are you Ryan Jopek’s dad?” he asked. The first thing I thought was, “Wow. It’s a small world.” “Yes, I am,” I told him.
The young man proceeded to tell me how he had originally been in Ryan’s unit in Merrill and was supposed to deploy with him. However, he got sick or hurt somehow – I don’t remember which. Whatever the case, he couldn’t deploy at the time but later was assigned to the unit that replaced Ryan’s. He told me when he got to the base where Ryan’s unit was, he was glad to see Ryan. Since it was getting near the end of the deployment for Ryan, the young man said he remembered how Ryan would be sitting on a picnic table with a group of soldiers from the new unit gathered around, asking him questions about missions and he would share what he knew. That’s ultimately how he ended up going on that last mission. Not only did he want to see at least part of northern Iraq I did – and he did do that on that Mosul trip in July, 2006 – but he was on that mission to help the “new guys” through as far as procedure and protocol on a convoy security mission. The young man got a thoughtful look on his face. “He was a hell of guy, Mr. Jopek,” he said. “You should be proud. I know I miss him.” That, I guess, is how I’d like my son to be remembered, or at least one way – helping others. That’s what my son did when he could, whether it was answering fellow soldiers’ questions and showing them the convoy security thing there in southwest Asia or back home, doing things like helping his grandparents in Antigo with yardwork. It was my boy’s nature.