Koppel ‘09 trains soldiers in Kuwait
By Tom Owen
Published on Friday, November 11, 2011
Since graduating from Dartmouth and its Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program, Chris Koppel ’09 Th’10 has experienced a world far removed from Hanover. Whereas most recent graduates traveled to the urban jungles of New York City and Boston, Koppel, now a lieutenant in the United States Army, traded the mountains of New Hampshire for the expansive deserts of Iraq and Kuwait.
Koppel, who served as commander of the Dartmouth ROTC detachment his senior year and is now stationed at Camp Buehring in Kuwait, trains with the rest of his unit from morning until night each day and plans all physical conditioning sessions for his unit, he said in an email to The Dartmouth. Koppel said his current schedule is much more predictable than when he was stationed in Iraq since his focus is now on training rather than patrolling.
“When I was Iraq, the schedule was a bit more rigorous because our patrol schedule varied so much,” Koppel said. “It is a relief to have some free time and get some more sleep in Kuwait.”
Although the United States is currently involved in a number of overseas conflicts in countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan, Koppel said the danger level on his base is relatively low. In Iraq, Koppel was “fortunate” to work in an area typically friendly to American troops, he said. Even without direct experience in combat, however, Koppel said he was not completely removed from the violence.
“There were a few situations that put us on edge,” he said. “There were a couple of times mortars and rockets gave us a jump while we were on base.”
Koppel said is relieved that his time in the Army has been relatively calm so far.
“In the end, I had it quite easy compared to the soldiers who came before me in Iraq and those who are now serving in Afghanistan,” Koppel said.
The few months Koppel served in Iraq provided a formative experience in his military career. Outside of the base, the local Iraqi people were “very hospitable” and were “generally happy” to see U.S. soldiers on patrol, Koppel said. Largely due to fears regarding Iran’s increasing influence over the country, Iraqis expressed uncertainty about Iraq’s stability once U.S. soldiers were ordered to leave, he said.
“They were worried about what may happen when all the U.S. troops finally pulled out,” he said. “They didn’t want us to leave.”’
The time spent on base in both Kuwait and Iraq has been characterized by the close relationships he has formed with other servicemen, he said. The lieutenants help each other when anyone is “swamped” with work, while commanders and subordinates form close relationships due to the large amounts of time they spend together, according to Koppel.
While the small size of Dartmouth’s ROTC program prevented Koppel from receiving the same level of training as his peers, Koppel said the individualized attention he received through the program contributed to the development of his leadership skills before being stationed overseas.
“I received a lot more one-on-one instruction and had a lot more opportunities to hone my leadership style,” Koppel said. “Although I didn’t realize it at the time, Dartmouth did a great job developing my public speaking skills as well.”
Koppel’s liberal arts education enabled him to analyze situations and formulate plans differently than some of the other lieutenants who received educations that focused solely on military training, he said.
Current ROTC cadets Jake Wijnberg ’12 and Aaron Cappelli ’12 praised Koppel’s leadership style and personality.
“[Koppel] was obviously a very welcoming guy,” Wijnberg said. “He definitely made himself approachable, and he was a great model for the rest of the cadets.”
While Koppel still has 2.5 years of service remaining in his military commission, he said he is unsure if he wants to pursue a career in the military or return to the civilian world.
“My experience in Iraq has been eye opening and I doubt I’ll ever be immersed in another foreign culture like I was in Iraq,” Koppel said. “I’m very proud to serve my country and am very thankful for the opportunity to serve as a platoon leader while deployed.”
Koppel, who majored in engineering as an undergraduate and was also a member of the Dartmouth men’s swimming and diving team, received a graduate degree from the Thayer School of Engineering in 2010 and is considering a career related to renewable energy, a passion he discovered at Dartmouth, he said.