Alaska National Guard sergeant drowns while dipnetting

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Sgt. 1st Class Russel Anthony Hepler seen with his family during his last promotion ceremony earlier this year

(Alaska National Guard photo)

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.

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©2019 the Alaska Dispatch News (Anchorage, Alaska). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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