ANKENY, Iowa — When Kevin Eppens was in high school he took flying lessons at the Decorah Airport. That love for flying, can be expensive, so he decided to follow that dream in the US Army.
“So I ended up at Fort Bragg North Carolina, where I was in an air cavalry unit,” said Eppens. “I worked on Cobra Attack helicopters and I became crew chief on one of those attack helicopters.”
Then when he got out of the Army, he went to college at the University of Northern Iowa. Nearby in Waterloo, there was a guard unit which flew and worked on helicopters, just like they had at Fort Bragg, except a little older, so he signed up again. Kevin was not able to follow the dream of flight school, as the Army created an age limit of 27, he’d aged out. But in going to officer candidate school, he opted to switch from aviation, to the infantry.
“So going from flying helicopters to being in the infantry, crawling in the mud, and doing inventory, was quite a change, but it was something I really enjoyed too,” said Eppens.
Then his Army career took another unexpected turn. This opportunity was as a construction engineer, something he did not have a lot of experience in.
“A job opportunity opened up in Southeast Iowa for an active guard reserve job this is an active duty officer with the National Guard unit located down in Southeast Iowa,” said Eppens. “We got that stigma from the National Guard which was in the past ( of guard soldiers not being ready) that we had highly trained soldiers ready to deploy and that’s probably my biggest accomplishment, working with that unit because when they did get deployed to go to Iraq, I felt that soldiers were much better prepared than they would’ve been prior to that.”
Because of Eppens’ work with the Southeast Iowa guard unit, it was one of the first called to Iraq, when the Army began deploying local units to assist over there. Then there was another change for this career Army officer.
“That was a toughest assignment, shortly after 911, I got reassigned up to Camp Dodge the Director of Personnel office,” said Eppens. “We’d get the notifications usually late at night time of soldiers that were wounded or killed overseas, so we have to go to Camp Dodge pull off the computer get the information, then I’d have to work with other officers we have throughout the state, and have them do the notifications.”
This was a job no one looked forward to, but it had to be done. Soldiers were wounded, or killed in Iraq. Many from that southeast Iowa unit Eppens had molded a few years back. He knew many of the soldiers, and their families.
“If it was a wounded soldier, I did a lot of phone calling, spouses and a lot of people I knew, wives, mothers and the people that I personally knew, to tell them that their son or husband was wounded,” said Eppens. “Also had to do a lot of death notification as well, and that was not a good duty at all but something that had to be done.”
Eppens retired from the Army 30 years to the day he first entered. He now works for the Iowa Economic Development Authority working with community colleges across the state.
“Thirty years in the military I had a wonderful career starting off active duty as a paratrooper, going to helicopters going into the National Guard, doing aviation, then going to infantry combat, and engineer construction management,” said Eppens. “I miss the soldiers just the soldiering you got going out to the field being outfield for a few weeks at a time, fun times, and working hard.”
Eppens’ daughter Emily followed him into an Army stint, working as a journalist for the Iowa National Guard at Camp Dodge. She is now a News Producer at WHO 13.
Kevin now has time for hobbies. He likes to build fishing rods, and he is also a trained bee keeper for the local Izaak Walton League, where he ‘s a board member. He and his family are also avid Buccaneer Hockey fans, watching the team at home, and on the road.