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Tom Sileo's op-ed column on The Unknown Soldiers: The Last Mission
Brian Jopek and son Ryan Jopek in June 2005.
Courtesy of Brian Jopek
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ATLANTA--U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Brian Jopek was deployed to Iraq when his oldest son, Ryan, also volunteered to serve his country.
"He went to basic training when I was in Iraq," Staff Sgt. Jopek, who has since retired from the Wisconsin Army National Guard, told The Unknown Soldiers.
Brian also missed his son's high school graduation while serving in combat, but always stayed in close contact with Ryan to give him pointers on life as a soldier.
"Keep your eyes open, keep your head low, and don't get complacent," Brian often told his eldest son.
Born in Nebraska, Ryan spent his formative years in Kansas before attending the last two years of high school in Merrill, Wis., a small city on the picturesque Wisconsin River.
After suffering an early football injury, Ryan grew to love the basketball court, where he excelled from beyond the arc.
"It was just incredible to see him hit those shots," his dad said. "The other guys were a lot faster, but he was the one guy who could hit those three-point shots."
Ryan joined the Army National Guard in 2003, just as thousands of American troops were beginning to fight the nation's second war since the 9/11 attacks.
"We were very proud of him," Brian said. "He was willing to do just about anything for anyone else whatever he could."
Not yet old enough to legally buy a beer, Sgt. Ryan Jopek deployed to Iraq during one of its most volatile, violent chapters. With his dad's advice in the back of his mind, the cavalry scout would often patrol the war-torn country's streets while manning the "gun tub" atop an armored military Humvee.
Ryan loved trucks since he was a boy.