Staff Sgt. Gary R. Harper Jr
when his reconnaissance mission was attacked by
enemy forces near Baghdad, Iraq
2nd Battalion, 5th Special Forces
based at Fort Campbell, Kentucky
Special Forces Condolences Book
9 October 2005
Gary R. Harper, Jr.
A Special Forces
assigned to the
5th Special Forces Group
Fort Campbell, Kentucky
He is survived by his wife, Danielle and three children, Gabrian, 3, Tristen, 8, and Madison,
10 of Clarksville, Tenn. . Other survivors include his father and mother, Linda Mae and Joe C. Morrison of Virden, Ill.
His military awards decorations include the Army Commendation Medal, Army Achievement
Medal, Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Korean Defense Service Medal,
NCO Professional Development Service Ribbon, Army Service Ribbon, Multinational Force and
Observers and Service Medal, the Iraqi Campaign Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service
Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, the Combat Infantryman Badge,
Parachute Badge, the Driver and Mechanic Badges and the Special Forces Tab. He was
posthumously recommended for the Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart and the Meritorious Service
His military education included the Survival Evasion Resistance Escape (SERE) Course, the Special
Forces Qualification Course, Basic Training, Advanced Individual Training for Multiple Launch
Rocket Systems (MLRS), the Basic Noncommissioned Officer Course, Airborne School, the
Special Forces Assessment and Selection Course, the Primary Leadership Development Course, the
Motor Pool Operation Management Course and the Combat Life Savers Course.
A native of Illinois, Harper entered the Army May 20, 1993 as an artilleryman.
Harper’s first assignment was with 1st Battalion, 14th Field Artillery, located at Fort Sill, Okla. The unit worked with the Multiple
Launch Rocket System (MLRS). This system provides the Army an all-weather, indirect, area fire weapon system to strike counterfire, air defense, armored formations, and other high-payoff targets at all depths of the tactical battlefield. He served there until January 2001.
He was then assigned to the 38th Field Artillery, located near Uijongbu, Korea, where he served until January 2003. While serving overseas, Harper was promoted to the rank of sergeant.
In January 2003, he began the vigorous, intensive two-year training to become a member of the Army’s most elite unit – the Green Berets.
In July 2003, during his Special Forces Combat Medical Training, the St. Petersburg Times
(below) in Florida featured him in an article about Training for Special
Operations Medics at Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg.
Harper successfully completed the Special Forces Qualification Course in 2004 and was assigned to 2nd Bat., 5th SFG (A) at Fort Campbell, Ky. in February 2005.
Harper deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in June 2005.
-De Oppresso Liber -
St. Petersburg Times Article
Shoot First, Heal Later
By: Susan Aschoff
Copyright © 2003 St. Petersburg Times
A row of stitches zigzags from the crook of the bloodied ear to the lobe, reattaching it after it was nearly severed in an accident. With a gloved finger, Staff Sgt. Gary Harper gently presses a couple of the sutures, checking the tension.
The man on the gurney in the emergency room at Bayfront Medical Center moans. ""Almost finished,'' says a voice from outside the paper shield covering the man's face.
Harper, 27, has 10 years with the Army. He is months into his training for Army Special Forces, an operations unit dispatched to some of the most dangerous conflicts in the world. Harper has received instruction in firearms, explosives, combat strategies.
He has learned multiple ways to kill.
At Bayfront, he is learning how to heal.
He will be a special operations medic, a soldier who fires his weapon during battle, then patches and evacuates the injured. Depending on the unit's mission, he may minister not only to his buddies but also to a feverish child brought in by worried parents who live nearby or to a farmer's prized but ailing donkey.
Dressed in a dark green polo shirt with an adhesive name tag reading ""Gary,'' Harper is spending two weeks at Bayfront applying what he learned in medical classes at Fort Bragg, N.C., to patients at a city hospital. Many of the patients are far from the fit, youthful, disciplined men and women in the armed forces. One of the key skills he is polishing is human relations.
""This is a pretty good cut on your foot,'' Harper observes, prompting the man to mumble about an accident on an earlier day.
""I'll just take a look and give you a new bandage,'' Harper says.
The man's body finally relaxes.
The U.S. military began shipping its special ops medics to Bayfront and Tampa General Hospital four years ago. The medics also train with each city's ambulance crews. Some used to go to New York City, but the upheaval in the medical community there since Sept. 11 has made the Tampa Bay area the trial-by-fire destination for special ops medics from across the country.
Each student spends two weeks at one of the hospitals, rotating through emergency, surgery, obstetrics and clinics, and two weeks with an ambulance or fire rescue crew. A class of 30 in Tampa and 18 in St. Petersburg completed their monthlong course July 4.
This community has just the right mix of mayhem for learning medicine on the fly, the military says.
""Last year we had a guy who knifed his girlfriend, and after he knifed her, he set himself on fire. The guys (in St. Petersburg) got the stabbing victim, and Tampa got the burn victim,'' says Army Sgt. 1st Class Jim Lawler, clinical coordinator for the special ops medic program.
His charges are in training for a half-dozen special ops units, from the Army's Green Berets to Navy SEALs. Special ops soldiers have been dispatched to more than 100 countries, most recently to Iraq, Afghanistan and the Philippines. Some students currently passing through the Tampa Bay area are special ops reservists refreshing their skills after being called up for the Iraq war.
Staff Sgt. Irving Lara, 25, of California, is training to be a Green Beret. He enlisted in the Army when he was 17. He was recruited for special ops about 18 months ago. ""You don't choose your job. They choose it for you,'' he says. He was a combat engineer on mines and explosives, blowing things apart. Now he'll be putting them back together.
Harper applied for special ops after 10 years in the Army, including time in Korea and with the multinational peacekeeping force in the Sinai Peninsula. He has six months remaining in his special ops medic training after he leaves St. Petersburg.
From recruitment to graduation, special ops candidates in all specialties train two to three years. Those who become medics are selected primarily on test results. They study environmental medicine ¦ how to purify water, food safety, indigenous diseases ¦ as well as trauma and general health care. They earn EMT or paramedic certifications. All candidates receive intensive physical conditioning and combat instruction. Many are required to learn a second language.
Their education culminates in a four-day field exercise. Simulated mission, induced chaos.
""Special ops epitomizes what you look for in the Army, the esprit de corps, a lot more responsibility,'' Lara says. He is on an advanced track and will take months of additional training in dentistry, obstetrics, lab work, surgery, anesthesia and veterinary medicine to become the military's version of a country doctor.
""If you see a person hurt, you just want to help,'' Lara says. And ""I'll also be fixing the cow.''
The students who come through Bayfront and TGH are already highly trained, says Craig Davies, nurse manager of Bayfront's emergency room.
""Their mental focus is fascinating to me. To take someone as young as they are and help them get to the level where they'll make a difference in life and death is impressive,'' Davies says.
The average age of special ops candidates is 20. All are men. Women do not serve in special ops because of its combat role.
Medics are the ""nerds'' of a unit, Lawler says. ""I have the sternness to stomp on someone and the softness to kiss a baby.'' Medics become ""mama to the team.''
But ""you're a shooter first, then a medic,'' he says.
About six months ago, a special ops medic who trained in the Tampa Bay area died in Afghanistan. He was shot in the pelvis during a rescue mission, Lawler says. Almost one-third of the fatalities in Afghanistan have been special forces soldiers, though they make up fewer than 3 percent of the troops, according to a U.S. Air Force report.
Dan Bell is an Army medic who has been stationed in Korea and at hospitals in the United States. Single and 23, he is training as a flight medic for a helicopter rescue unit because he wants to make ""a bigger difference.''
After two weeks at Bayfront, Bell is assigned to rescue at Fire Station 11 in Pinellas Point. The challenge of his four weeks has been treating a wide range of patients, he says, from senior citizens to children, car accident victims to heart attacks.
""I've seen a lot of HIV, hepatitis, respiratory problems,'' Bell says.
Two days before the course's end, Bell helped treat an overheated 2-year-old girl suffering convulsions on a living room floor, then transported her to Bayfront.
He describes his discomfort while inserting an IV ¦ a procedure he has performed hundreds of times ¦ as the patient's family critiqued his performance.
Rico Carrasco wanted to be a chef when he was a boy. The 21-year-old from Santa Fe, N.M., is training for the 528th Support Unit.
Unlike his classroom work at Fort Bragg, ""the ER is real blood, real people, gunshot wounds, stabbings,'' the serious-looking Carrasco says of his stint in St. Petersburg.
Says Lawler: ""Upon graduation, a SOCM (pronounced sew-cahm, Special Operations Command Medic) is capable of basic primary care for his special ops team for up to seven days and of sustaining a combat casualty for up to 72 hours.'' Lawler emphasizes the 72. A combat medic who is not special ops sustains a patient up to 36 hours before evacuation, under the military's parameters.
Lawler's conversations are riddled with acronyms and military jargon. He trained as a medic when working communications for his special ops unit became so high-tech that he missed the personal touch. At 39, his head shaved and his physique imposingly muscular, he carries a knife but his eyes laugh. In contrast, the students he shepherds seem small and cautious. (They were instructed beforehand on how to respond to media inquiries.)
Perceptions of special ops soldiers as brutish enforcers are not entirely accurate, Lawler says. ""We call ourselves ambassadors without portfolios.''
Carrasco says that his time in St. Petersburg is ""like your thesis. You put everything you've learned into practice.''
""Before I came here, I thought, "I don't think I'm ready,' '' he says.
""The biggest thing was talking to patients and how they look at you and expect you . . . to help them.
""I found out I am ready.''
**Information from SFAHQ.com, The DoD, USASOC and The St. Petersburg Times
in this Article.
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