Last Sunday, the Pentagon announced the death of Marine Gunnery Sergeant Scott A. Koppenhafer, 35, of Mancos, Colorado. According to the initial release, Koppenhafer died of critical wounds he received under small arms fire while supporting and advising a contingent of Iraqi Security Forces during a planned operation in Ninewah province, Iraq. Now, however, the Pentagon has walked back claims that the decorated Marine was killed by enemy small arms fire, stoking fears that his death may have been caused by friendly fire instead.
While previous DoD released cited small arms fire as the cause of Gunnery Sergeant Koppenhafer’s death, all releases have since been amended to read that he died “after suffering fatal wounds while supporting Iraqi Security Forces.”
Pentagon officials have now been quoted as saying “all possibilities are being considered” in Koppenhafer’s death, with rumours of a friendly fire incident taking hold, but thus far no evidence has surfaced to substantiate that possibility.
A decorated Marine Raider, Koppenhafer was MARSOC’s 2018 Critical Skills Operator of the Year, with ten years experience as a special operator after serving as a machine gunner and scout sniper prior to going through selection. Koppenhafer was meritoriously promoted to Staff Sergeant during his first deployment as a Marine Raider and earned two Bronze Stars alongside multiple other awards during his four deployments with MARSOC. Prior to those four combat deployments, Koppenhafer completed two more deployments with both the 31st and 11th Marine Expeditionary Units.
“Our most sincere thoughts are with the family and teammates of Gunnery Sergeant Koppenhafer during this difficult time,” Maj. Kristin Tortorici, a MARSOC spokeswoman, said in a command release.
Koppenhafer is survived by a wife and two children, making the possibility of his death in a friendly fire incident that much harder to swallow for many. This would not be the first or only high profile friendly-fire death to occur throughout nearly two decades of ongoing combat operations on multiple fronts around the world in the Global War on Terror.
Among the most prominent of these tragic incidents was the death of Pat Tillman, a professional football player that turned down a $3.6 million contract with the Arizona Cardinals to enlist in the U.S. Army following the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. Tillman went on to serve as an Army Ranger and was killed in a friendly fire incident that was also initially reported as enemy contact.
According to the Pentagon, an investigation into the circumstances of Koppenhafer’s death is ongoing.