Hopi soldier recounts time in Iraq

Courtesy photo
Jared Shupla, with Iraqi police including two of the first Iraqi female officers he helped train.

Courtesy photo Jared Shupla, with Iraqi police including two of the first Iraqi female officers he helped train.

SEATTLE -- Jared Shupla, a graduate of Hopi High School, said when he served in Iraq that he was in harm's way every day.

Shupla said many soldiers want to come home, but it's not because of the dangers. It's just because the lengths of their stay away from home are too long.

Shupla, who is Hopi/Tewa/Laguna, served in Iraq for a year with the stint ending in January. His Army unit, the 571st, has been stationed near Seattle since their return to the states, but Shupla and his unit will be shipping out for Egypt in late August.

"I was just trying to get my job done and come home," he said. "A lot of the soldiers don't want to be there, just because a year is a long time. I met a lot of Navajos who said they just want to come home."

Shupla, who hails from Polacca on the Hopi Reservation, said he met one soldier from Laguna, N.M., who had his time in Iraq extended to one and one-half years. He said that soldier was not happy.

Shupla served most of his time in Iraq in the green zone, an international area where soldiers are supposed to be safe. He met soldiers from Australia, Britain and Japan while in this green zone.

"A lot of them thought that because of my eyes that I was Chinese or Mexican," he said. "But one Iraqi said that we're all related."

Shupla was hit in his calves and thigh by shrapnel from a mortar round, but he considers himself lucky.

His roommate, Jonathan Nunemaker from California, suffered worse injuries as he was hit by 17 big pieces of shrapnel off the same mortar. Shupla said he was among five American soldiers walking just outside the supposed safe zone when they were hit from shrapnel from the mortar.

"We were in harm's way everyday," he said. "Mortars would land 20 feet away and our roofs were made out of tin. We were pretty much in danger all the time."

Shupla said the worst experience came when a female Army Specialist, Green, lost her hand from a mortar.

Green played basketball at Notre Dame and her experience has since been documented on television.

"She was on the roof and I was on the ground when it happened. She was really really nice and it was sad," he said.

Shupla noted that the majority of the wounds of American soldiers were from mortars rather than from guns or hand-to-hand combat. He said there were few

Iraqis who had guns.

During his time in Iraq, Shupla served as a security escort for Paul Bremmer, served as security for Iraqi police, trained Iraqi police and went on joint operations with Iraqi security. He takes pride that his unit was the first to train Iraqi females.

Shupla, 21, said he hopes for a better future for Iraqis, especially the Iraqi police because their own people don't have much respect for them. He said his unit became friendly with their Iraqi interpreters because they were so friendly.

"Most Iraqis were happy we were over there," he said.

"My parents were supportive, but they were scared."

Since returning to the states, Shupla has been enjoying surfing and playing baseball with his fellow soldiers.

Shupla signed up for a five year stint and in October he will be two years through it. When his time is up he doesn't plan to stay in the Army. He hopes to go to college and become a police officer.

Shupla has a message for families of those in Iraq.

"If you have family over there, send them mail because it really stinks when you go to the mail room and there's nothing there," he said. "The time overseas can be lonely."

He is the son of Marshall and Susan Shupla. He hopes to come home at the end of this month for two weeks.

(Stan Bindell, former Observer editor, is journalism and radio teacher at Hopi High School.)

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