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21st TSC honors first member slain in Iraq

KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — Spc. Jonathan Roy Kephart laid down his life so that others could live.Kephart, 21, of the Kaiserslautern-based 230th Military Police Company, was a gunner in a three-vehicle patrol in north Baghdad when the squad ran into a hellish hail of weapons fire.The unit had been in Baghdad less than a month and was on its way to help soldiers whose Humvee had a flat tire.Suddenly, what seemed like hundreds of enemies besieged the squad with rocket-propelled grenades, small-arms fire and roadside-bomb traps.“They went into a firestorm no one could have anticipated,” Col. Susan Sowers, commander of the 37th Transportation Command, said of the April 8 attack. Sowers was among a large group of soldiers who attended a memorial service for Kephart on Friday in Kaiserslautern.When the attack started, Kephart, a quiet man from Oil City, Pa., unleashed a cacophonous response with his .50-caliber weapon, spraying cover fire as the squad made its way down a “four-kilometer kill zone,” Sowers said.The nine other members of his 2nd Squad, 4th Platoon “Hell Raisers” in the Humvees behind and in front of him did the same, trying to stave off death.Even after a round exploded in Kephart’s .50-caliber gun, he didn’t flinch. His driver and team leader, Spc. Amy Kovac, handed her M249 machine gun to him and Kephart unloaded the rounds until he had no more. Then he grabbed an M-4 assault rifle and continued defending the squad.The squad kept moving, Kovac and the other drivers maneuvering evasively. But they had to turn around and head back through the kill zone when they discovered roadside bombs blocking their path.“I know at one point when I looked at him, watching him as he poured fire onto the enemy troops, I knew we had a chance to make it out of there,” Platoon Sgt. Edwin Rossman wrote of the attack. Every soldier did make it out with minor injuries — except Kephart.The gunner saw a rocket-propelled grenade heading right for him and ducked to avoid it. But the RPG hit the metal plate behind Kephart’s sling and exploded, shearing off the back of his skull and sending a shower of shrapnel into the vehicle.Medic Spc. Serana Divirgilio kept Kephart alive while the squad continued running the gantlet. The troops and their bullet-ridden vehicles waited 30 minutes for medical evacuation, which flew Kephart to a military hospital in Baghdad. He died the next day, on Good Friday.Kephart’s commanders have recommended that he receive the Silver Star for his gallantry in action against the enemy, Sowers said. He has received the Purple Heart.Back in garrison, friends said, Kephart was known as a pensive man who let most of life’s slings and arrows bounce off of him.“He was calm and cool. He looked like he couldn’t harm a spider,” Pvt. Michael Garcia said in a letter read during the ceremony. “He was just a peaceful guy with nothing to prove to anyone.”Kephart’s best friend, Pfc. Joseph LeBlanc, said his buddy’s actions in the firefight weren’t surprising. He always was taking care of others. “John Roy, I know you are out there watching over me, just like you were right next to me,” LeBlanc said.Kephart is the first member of Kaiserslautern’s 21st Theater Support Command killed in Iraq. He is survived by his parents, Burt and Donna Kephart.“If Spc. Kephart had not been so relentless, we would have suffered heavy casualties,” Rossman wrote. “Spc. Kephart gave his life protecting and defending his brothers and sisters.”


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