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Tuesday, Jan 07 2014 12:37 PM

'First Look': Army officer Van Kopp recalls suicide bombing, talks about future

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    U.S. Army 1st Lt. Samuel Van Kopp, center, talks about surviving a suicide bomb attack with Scott Cox, left, and Californian President and CEO Richard Beene on Tuesday on "First Look with Scott Cox."

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    By The Californian

    Jim Weaver greets Samuel Van Kopp during his homecoming celebration at Meadows Field on Dec. 18, 2012.

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    Samuel Van Kopp

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BY LAURA LIERA Californian staff writer lliera@bakersfield.com

U.S. Army 1st Lt. Samuel Van Kopp could taste blood in his mouth as he crawled into a hole and called for help on the radio.

Little did he know, he was conscious with a 10 mm ball bearing lodged in his skull.

Tuesday on "First Look with Scott Cox," Van Kopp talked about the day he will remember forever.

It was early in the morning of Sept. 26, 2012 in Logar, Afghanistan, as Van Kopp and five others in his platoon walked and patrolled around 10 vehicles of engineers who traveled to find IEDs.

The multiple convoys the platoon protected went under heavy fire and they had no option but to seek cover. As the group of six came together to figure out the next step, a man walked up to the group.

As Sgt. Jonathan A. Gollnitz and Staff Sgt. Orion N. Sparks stood up to intercept the man and force him down, the man exploded.

"He was wearing a suicide vest under his robe," Van Kopp said.

Both sergeants were killed in the attack, others were severely injured and Van Kopp had no idea how injured he was.

When the bomb went off, Van Kopp said, the surroundings were just like a "huge cloud of dust and it was like a power switch, where half a second of your life was gone, and then you wake up."

Within the span of 48 hours, Van Kopp was first flown to a hospital in Germany and then was back in the states at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

Van Kopp was put in an induced coma for 48 hours to reduce the swelling in his brain.

To this day, the shrapnel remains in his brain and removing it could cause more damage to the brain tissue, he said.


When Van Kopp, a 2006 honors graduate of Bakersfield High School who went on to the United States Military Academy at West Point, returned home in December 2012, many local people called him a hero.

The word makes Van Kopp feel uncomfortable.

"There is no heroism or honor in killing people, shedding blood or in giving blood," Van Kopp said. "Someone is heroic because of the actions they give, not because of the things that happened to them."


Van Kopp had planned to serve in the Army for about six to eight years.

But life took a different route.

In the next few months, a medical exam review board will decide if Van Kopp remains in the Army or is discharged.

Although his plans have changed, Van Kopp said he would like to spend some time in Washington, D.C., where he currently resides, and be a legislative assistant to Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield.

"But my long-term goal is to teach history at a university," he said.

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