David Kloppenborg, US Marine Corps, Army Reserve, National Guard 1984-2010
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My name is David Kloppenborg, and I’m originally from Marshalltown, Iowa. I joined the United States Marine Corps in 1980, and served from 1980 to 1984. I was very lucky, and that I was in the air wing of the Marine Corps. I served most of my time out in Southern California. I did my basic training in San Diego. I did advanced training in Memphis, Tennessee. Then, I was stationed in El Toro, California, which is a Marine Corps air station, which is no longer there. Served three years there, and then I did a six month rotation, I guess you would call it. I was over in Iwakuni, Japan for six months. While I was there, we had to go to a month in Australia and then I did another month in the Philippines. It was basically like a vacation.
‘80 to ‘84 was peace time, so it was really not hard duty, especially my job. I was an avionics technician and the piece of equipment that I worked on was a TACAN, which is short for tactical air navigation system, was brand new. It was still under warranty. I did not use any of my electronic skills, because all the modules, if they went bad, I just swapped the module and find out which is the bad one and ordered a new one. They never went bad. It was a very long tour, because it was very uneventful. I got out in 1984, like I said. Came back home, and then I went back to college. I decided that I needed the little extra college money, so I joined the National Guard, which was in my home town. I was at 234th signal battalion, and I became a cable dog, which was a 31 Lima.
Actually when I talked to the recruiter, I told him that I was going to college, and I wanted a job I didn’t have to think. They gave me the job as a cable dog. Like I said, it was a signal battalion unit, and we would string phone lines and cables from the pods into the various units. It was a fun job. The nice thing about that was that we traveled all over the country on our annual training. My first year was at Fort Hood, Texas. The second year, we were in the Black Hills of South Dakota. We were down in Mississippi. We were up in Northern Michigan. It was fun times. It was not hard work. Then, when I graduated from the University of Iowa in 1992, I moved to Lawrence, Kansas to pursue a master’s degree. I still had two years left on my obligation, so I transferred to a unit down in Topeka, Kansas, and they were a helicopter unit. I was in the kamo section.
I really didn’t care for that MOS or that unit, so when my enlistment was up, I got out in ‘94. Then, I moved to Dodge City, Kansas, and I became the curator at the Boot Hill Museum out there. One day, I was in the post office and I’ve seen the flier for the army reserves. They had a heavy equipment, a transportation unit. That kind of appealed to me. I always wanted to try big trucks, so I joined the army reserves and was the 443rd transportation unit out of Dodge City, Kansas. They had the HETs. The HETs are the heavy equipment transport trucks. They are the trucks that pull tanks. These are the biggest trucks in the military. These things are huge. Their top speed is 45 miles an hour, and they were a challenge to drive, just because they were so big. I was in that unit for four or five years, something like that.
The one thing I didn’t like about that unit is we always did our annual training out at California, in the desert outside of Barstow. It was the same thing every year. They got really old. In 2002, I moved to Missouri, and Mount Vernon, and so I had a transfer. I transferred to the 459th transportation company out of Springfield. They had semis, 40-foot flat beds. It was a long haul unit. I had transferred and I was with them for six months when we were activated for operation Iraqi Freedom. It was a weird experience going to work, and getting a phone call saying we’ve been activated. Get into the unit the next day. I did, and we ended up in Iraq basically two months after the actual combat was supposedly over with. The war started I think it was February 2003. We got there in April 2003. We were sent over originally to Kuwait, Camp Arifjan. From there, they sent us to Camp Cedar, which is right outside of Nasiriyah, Iraq.
The neat thing about that place was that it was right next to the ancient city of Ur, and the ziggurat or the pyramid, we could actually see it on clear days. Our mission was to haul goods from Camp Cedar up to Camp Anaconda, which was about 60 miles north of Baghdad. There’d be another unit that would haul stuff from the port in Kuwait, up to camp Cedar, and they would drop the trailers, and we would get up bright and early the next morning, hook up and then drive to Camp Anaconda. Once we were there, we drop our load. We go to the tent, stay the night. The next morning, we’d go pick retrograde up to take back south. Then, when we got back to Camp Cedar on the third day, then we had the third day off.
We had basically that three-day rotation for about six or seven months. When we first got there, it was free for all. There was no really rules. We would just go wherever we wanted to whenever we wanted to. By the time we left, it had heated up and there was a lot more attacks and roadside bombs, and that kind of thing. You couldn’t go anywhere without the approval of movement control. We had no idea how long we were going to be there. We figured we would be there less than six months, because as a reservist, we figured they’d want to get us home so we wouldn’t be eligible for VA benefits. In October, we had a meeting and we were told we would be there at least one year, 365 days boots on ground, they called it.
Well, we were there longer than that. In February, I think it was February, that’s when insurgent attacks started picking up. We had all our equipment washed, we had shipped home a lot of our equipments, some of our personal belongings, and we were just sitting at Camp Arifjan, Kuwait waiting for a plane ticket home when we were given the word that we were extended. There was a lot of very unhappy people that night. Instead of being there for a year, we were actually there for 18 months. We actually didn’t fly home until August first. I feel that I’m very fortunate that I never had to fire my weapon in anger. I never saw any gruesome results of war. I was present when IEDs went off, and that was kind of scary and tense, but I always tell people, “If you want to be safe, ride with me,” because the bombs always went off at least six trucks away from me. It was either ahead of me or behind me, but never around me.
When I came home, I’m very fortunate that I don’t have PTSD, where some of my comrades do. I think it’s because they were maybe a little closer to the action. We came home, and then I joined a different unit. I became instead of a truck driver, I became movement control officer. Went through training for that, and then we were activated. I served over in Mosul, Iraq from February of 2009 until February of 2010. I was the NCOIC of the airport at Mosul. Everybody that came and went through Mosul came through us. We’d park planes, and keep track of the rosters of people coming and going. We had to keep the airport terminal clean, and stocked with food. The worst part about that job was if there was a soldier killed, because we had to schedule the flight to come get them. A lot of times the whole unit would descend on the terminal and be demanding when the plane was going to show up.
There were times when we didn’t know. It was out of our control. There would be people getting upset, wondering when this plane was going to show up. A lot of it was delayed because of the weather, the sandstorms. That was difficult times, but fortunately I think the year we were there, we only had four or five of those, what they called hero flights. When I came home, I decided that I didn’t want to be activated again, so I retired and kind of kicking myself because there are two rides you can go when you retire. You can either get totally out, or you can go inactive reserve where you can go back in if you want to. I got totally out, and kind of regret that. I wish I would have went independent ready reserve so I could join back in, because now I miss it.
When I retired in 2010 after 24 years of service, I was an E-7, a sergeant first class. The one thing I learned about the military is never be late. There’s no excuse for being late. My wife’s going to kill me, but she is the opposite. She’s always late. Now, she’s dragging me down, no. I try not to be late. My years of experience have help prepare me for my civilian job, because I am the supervisor of volunteers at the Missouri Veterans Commission at the Missouri Veterans Home here in Mount Vernon. It enables me to relate to the veterans out there, because I’m one of them. One of these days, I’ll probably have a room out there.
I have an inkling of some of their experiences, and what they’ve gone through. Especially those who once that have been deployed and have been in a combat zone, maybe not in actual combat but at least being in harm’s way. The military has been very beneficial to me in my lifetime, and I’d do it again.