2015-11-05 / Front Page

Veterans Day ceremony Wednesday

By Tim Riel

Army veteran Alex Reppe in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom. He was shot in the face by enemy fire during his second tour. 
Courtesy | Alex Reppe Army veteran Alex Reppe in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom. He was shot in the face by enemy fire during his second tour. Courtesy | Alex Reppe An Army infantryman who was shot in Afghanistan five years ago this month will speak during the Veterans Day ceremony at East Ferry square next week.

Purple Heart recipient Alex Reppe will join members of the American Legion Arnold-Zweir Post 22 and the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9447 at the ceremony that will be held on Wednesday, Nov. 11, at 11 a.m. The commemoration will be led by retired Army Lt. Col. David Cormier, who commands the Legion, and retired Marine Col. Bruce Livingston, commander of the VFW.

Reppe, who joined the U.S. Army in 2007, was deployed just weeks after being stationed at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. “I was sent to a unit as a replacement, meaning I was replacing someone who was killed in combat,” he said.

Fresh out of basic training, Reppe and the 82nd Airborne fought in the monumental battle between international allies and the Taliban at Musa Qala. Transported by Chinook helicopters, Reppe and his squad conducted air assaults in some of the most dangerous territories around Afghanistan.

Five months into his deployment, however, Reppe’s mother died and he had to take emergency leave to attend her services in Southern California.

Upon returning to the Army, Reppe was transferred to the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell in Kentucky. He trained with snipers in a scout platoon. After passing a grueling selection process, he was deployed for a second time, this time to eastern Afghanistan near the border of Pakistan. His platoon carried out more than a 100 air assaults.

As a member of the sniper team, Reppe carried the ladder on most missions. On a typical assignment, a chopper in the pitch dark would fly into a marked area and his team was dropped off.

“Since I was carrying the ladder, this meant I was the first man at the compound,” said Reppe. “Armed with a sniper rifle in one hand and a ladder in the other, we would sneak up to the target compound in the middle of the night.”

Reppe then climbed the ladder, scanned the area from the roof, and radioed back to his platoon a half-mile away that was awaiting his signal to proceed.

On Nov. 7, 2010, Reppe’s team was tasked with finding and killing a Taliban sniper. After locating the enemy’s vicinity, the Americans devised an ambush. After sneaking deep into dangerous territory, the team set up on the rooftop of a nearby compound and awaited daylight. The following morning at 8 a.m., the team’s position was compromised, and Reppe heard a gunshot in his direction.

“Minutes later, we started taking fire from almost all directions,” Reppe said. “They were shooting machine guns, rockets and rifles at our position. The machine gun squad below was hiding behind the walls while my team sat still concentrating on trying to find where they were.”

After about 20 minutes of constant barrage – mostly inaccurate, since they were firing from beyond their capable range, says Reppe – the bullets started coming closer.

“You can feel the rounds as they fly past you,” he said.

That’s when Reppe’s team leader was sprayed with shrapnel over his face, causing him to roll off the roof. Reppe went to help. As he was scooting close to the ladder to get down, he placed his two feet on the ladder and reached back for his rifle.

“That’s when it hit me,” he said.

As he passed out, Reppe fell off the rooftop. He woke up a minute later with his back against a wall and blood pouring from his face. He reached for his neck to try and find the source of bleeding, but didn’t feel a wound. He took off his helmet and felt a huge indentation in it. That’s when he touched his face and felt the pain.

“I had no idea what happened. Was I shot? I must have been. Am I dying?”

After telling Reppe that he was going to be OK, his teammates used a blood-clotting agent and patched his wound.

“I could barely walk and was very confused,” he said. Armored vehicles helped secure the location while transportation took Reppe back to a medic at the base. From there, a helicopter medically evacuated him to a larger base for face surgery. He received two layers of 50 stitches and broke his lower eye bone.

“The round went through the back of my helmet first and then through my temple, but luckily it was just a graze wound,” he said.

After five years and four months, Reppe left the Army in July 2012. He is now a senior at the University of Rhode Island studying psychology and anthropology.

The community is invited to honor Reppe and his fellow service members at the ceremony Wednesday. According to Cormier, the holiday traces its roots back to the armistice with Germany at the end of World War I, which took effect at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. Originally proclaimed Armistice Day by President Woodrow Wilson in 1919, Congress renamed it Veterans Day in 1954.

If it rains, organizers will relocate the observance across the street at the recreation center. Also, volunteers are needed on Veterans Day to join the American Legion and VFW raise and lower flags at the East Ferry square. They will gather at 8 a.m. to raise nearly 100 flags that will fly all day in honor of U.S. veterans. Volunteers are also needed at 3 p.m. to retire the flags. Following the ceremony, the veterans posts will sponsor an informal lunch at the Narragansett Cafe for all veterans and their families. Veterans do not need to be a member of the Legion or VFW to attend the free buffet.

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