A graduate of an East Texas college comes home to his alma mater to tell his story of commanding troops in the war in Iraq. A career Marine of 22 years, Lieutenant Colonel Dave Leppelmeier just returned from a seven-month tour of Iraq. There, he commanded more than 800 Marines at an air base near Fallujah, in a hostile area called the Sunni Triangle. Today, he shared some of his experiences with aviation students at Letourneau University.
There was the story of his brush with one of the roadside bombs they call "I.E.D.'s"; improvised explosive device. "There was a little dust a little dirt and then we hit the Sunni triangle, and that's when we got hit by an I.E.D. in Iskanderia, what a rude awakening that was, you know all of the sudden I'm on my gut with an M-16 calling medivac."
An experienced F-18 fighter pilot, he commanded ground forces in the powder keg of enemy activity, and saw two of his men killed in bitter fighting. "I wore their blood on my back, I felt responsible for every single thing every wounded every K.I.A. Oh yeah, it's tough-- it's a lot of weight," says the Iraq vet.
His squadron, called the "The Rhinos" spent months repairing and building runways, refueling aircraft and detonating improvised explosive devices to protect coalition forces and Iraqi civilians. But he says his toughest job was writing to the families of his fallen men. "That was the hardest thing I've ever had to do, call a guy's mom and tell them that, first of all that he died doing his job and for a valid reason."
The 1982 LeTourneau graduate had the message anyone can make a difference, if you want it. "I'm the guy that fights for the little guy, the guy with a "C" average on the 5 year program, I was nothing special when I was in college and I'm nothing special now, just duke it out and do what's right, try to make a difference."
Lt. Colonel Leppelmeier has accumulated more than 4,000 hours in the F-4 and F-18 aircraft. He has completed 108 combat missions and over 700 aircraft carrier landings during nine overseas deployments. He is currently serving as the commanding officer of a Marine Wing Support Squadron.