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Alaska National Guard sergeant drowns while dipnetting
Russell Hepler, a sergeant with the Alaska Army National Guard, died Saturday when he was swept away by the current of the Copper River while dipnetting, according to a report from the Guard Sunday.
Hepler, 35, was dipnetting with his wife, Shandra Hepler, in the Copper River near O'Brien Creek, south of the town of Chitina, when he was caught up in the river at around 2 a.m., according to the the Guard. "Attempts were made to save him, but he was carried downstream," the Guard wrote.
Hepler was found in the river by people in a boat after he had drowned, the Guard wrote. They got him into the boat and contacted the Alaska State Troopers.
His body was recovered and his next of kin have been notified. Hepler and his wife have three children.
Sgt. 1st Class Hepler joined the Alaska Army National Guard in 2007, according to the Guard. He was a full-time Army National Guard soldier in the 49th Missile Defense Battalion's Military Police Company at Ft. Greely from 2007 to 2014 and again from 2017 to present. He also served in the Guard as the readiness non-commissioned officer in Ketchikan from 2014 to 2017.
Prior to that, Hepler was in the Florida Army National Guard from 2001 to 2004, serving in support of Operation Noble Eagle and deployed to Iraq in 2003 for a year in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Hepler was a member of the New York Army National Guard from 2004 to 2007.
Hepler joined the Alaska Army National Guard in 2007 after first joining the U.S. military in February 2001. He was a full-time Army National Guard Soldier in the 49th Missile Defense Battalion's Military Police Company at Ft. Greely. He was assigned there from 2007 to 2014, and again from 2017 to present. He also served in the Alaska Army National Guard as the readiness non-commissioned officer in Ketchikan from 2014 to 2017.
"I was deeply saddened to hear about the death of our Soldier, Sgt. 1st Class Hepler. I extend my most sincere condolences to his wife, Shandra, and their children, loved ones, friends, and the Soldiers he served alongside," said commander of the Alaska Army National Guard, Brig. Gen. Charles "Lee" Knowles. "While words seem inadequate, we may hope and pray that Sgt. 1st Class Hepler's family is comforted with strength and peace as they grieve."
Prior to joining the Alaska Army National Guard, Hepler was in the Florida Army National Guard from 2001 to 2004. During that time, he served in support of Operation Noble Eagle and deployed to Iraq in 2003 for a year in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Hepler was a member of the New York Army National Guard from 2004 to 2007.
The next of kin have been notified. Hepler and his wife have three children. The 49th MDBn has arranged a memorial service for Tuesday, June 11 at 2 p.m in the Ft. Greely chapel.
©2019 the Alaska Dispatch News (Anchorage, Alaska). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher will retire as a chief petty officer now that President Donald Trump has restored his rank.
"Before the prosecution of Special Warfare Operator First Class Edward Gallagher, he had been selected for promotion to Senior Chief, awarded a Bronze Star with a "V" for valor, and assigned to an important position in the Navy as an instructor," a White House statement said.
"Though ultimately acquitted on all of the most serious charges, he was stripped of these honors as he awaited his trial and its outcome. Given his service to our Nation, a promotion back to the rank and pay grade of Chief Petty Officer is justified."
The announcement that Gallagher is once again an E-7 effectively nullifies the Navy's entire effort to prosecute Gallagher for allegedly committing war crimes. It is also the culmination of Trump's support for the SEAL throughout the legal process.
On July 2, military jurors found Gallagher not guilty of premeditated murder and attempted murder for allegedly stabbing a wounded ISIS fighter to death and opening fire at an old man and a young girl on separate occasions during his 2017 deployment to Iraq.
Trump orders dismissal of murder charge against former Green Beret accused of killing a suspected Taliban bomb maker
President Donald Trump has ended the decade-long saga of Maj. Matthew Golsteyn by ordering a murder charge against the former Green Beret dismissed with a full pardon.
The Army charged Golsteyn with murder in December 2018 after he repeatedly acknowledged that he killed an unarmed Afghan man in 2010. Golsteyn's charge sheet identifies the man as "Rasoul."
President Donald Trump has signed a full pardon for former 1st Lt. Clint Lorance, who had been convicted of murder for ordering his soldiers to open fire on three unarmed Afghan men, two of whom were killed.
Lorance will now be released from the United States Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where he had been serving a 19-year sentence.
"He has served more than six years of a 19-year sentence he received. Many Americans have sought executive clemency for Lorance, including 124,000 people who have signed a petition to the White House, as well as several members of Congress," said a White House statement released Friday.
"The President, as Commander-in-Chief, is ultimately responsible for ensuring that the law is enforced and when appropriate, that mercy is granted. For more than two hundred years, presidents have used their authority to offer second chances to deserving individuals, including those in uniform who have served our country. These actions are in keeping with this long history. As the President has stated, 'when our soldiers have to fight for our country, I want to give them the confidence to fight.'"
Additionally, Trump pardoned Maj. Matthew Golsteyn, who was to go on trial for murder charges next year, and restored the rank of Navy SEAL Chief Edward Gallagher, who was found not guilty of murdering a wounded ISIS prisoner but convicted of taking an unauthorized photo with the corpse.
Fox News contributor Pete Hegseth first announced on Nov. 4 that the president was expected to intervene in the Lorance case was well as exonerate Army Maj. Matthew Golsteyn, who has been charged with murder after he admitted to killing an unarmed Afghan man whom he believed was a Taliban bomb maker, and restore Navy SEAL Eddie Gallagher's rank to E-7.
For the past week, members of Lorance's family and his legal team have been holding a constant vigil in Kansas anticipating his release, said Lorance's attorney Don Brown.
Now that he has been exonerated of committing a war crime, Lorance wants to return to active duty, Brown told Task & Purpose on Wednesday.
"He loves the Army," Brown said prior to the president's announcement. "He doesn't have any animosity. He's hoping that his case – and even his time at Leavenworth – can be used for good to deal with some issues regarding rules of engagement on a permanent basis so that our warfighters are better protected, so that we have stronger presumptions favoring warfighters and they aren't treated like criminals on the South Side of Chicago."
In the Starz documentary "Leavenworth," Lorance's platoon members discuss the series of events that took place on July 2, 2012, when the two Afghan men were killed during a patrol in Kandahar province.They claim that Lorance ordered one of his soldiers to fire at three Afghan men riding a motorcycle. The three men got off their motorcycle and started walking toward Afghan troops, who ordered them to return to their motorcycle.
At that point, Lorance ordered the turret gunner on a nearby Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle to shoot the three men, according to the documentary. That order was initially ignored, but the turret gunner eventually opened fire with his M-240, killing two of the men.
But Lorance told the documentary makers that his former soldiers' account of what happened was "ill-informed."
"From my experience of what actually went down, when my guy fired at it, and it kept coming, that signified hostile intent, because he didn't stop immediately," Lorance said in the documentary's second episode.
Brown argues that not only is Lorance innocent of murder, he should never have been prosecuted in the first case.
"He made a call and when you look at the evidence itself, the call was made within a matter of seconds," Brown said "He would make that call again."
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