Former MARSOC Operator of the Year Killed in Iraq

Gunnery Sergeant Scott A. Koppenhafer, 35, of Mancos, Colorado, died Aug. 11, 2019 while supporting Operation Inherent Resolve in Iraq. (Courtesy U.S. Marine Corps) | By Hope Hodge Seck

The Defense Department has identified a seasoned Marine Raider killed in Iraq while supporting the joint mission to defeat ISIS.

Gunnery Sergeant Scott A. Koppenhafer, 35, of Mancos, Colorado, died Saturday "after being engaged by enemy small arms fire while conducting combat operations," officials said in a release late Sunday. The incident remains under investigation.

Koppenhafer belonged to 2nd Marine Raider Battalion, Marine Forces Special Operations Command, out of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

According to MARSOC officials, Koppenhafer had joined the Marine Corps in 2005 and served a decade as a critical skills operator. While in that role, he earned numerous valor decorations, as well as the distinction of being named honor graduate of the arduous MARSOC individual training course in 2009, and MARSOC Critical Skills Operator of the Year in 2018.

Prior to joining the command, Koppenhafer was a machine gunner with 1st Battalion, 5th Marines and then a scout sniper, deploying aboard the 31st and 11th Marine Expeditionary Units.

He deployed four times as a MARSOC Raider, earning a meritorious promotion to staff sergeant on his first deployment to Afghanistan, officials said.

His other awards include two Bronze Star Medals with combat distinguishing device, two Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medals with Combat Distinguishing Device, one Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal, two Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals and two Combat Action Ribbons.

U.S. Central Command officials previously said that Koppenhafer was killed during a joint mission with Iraqi security forces in Nineveh province, to the north. He was in an advisory capacity on the planned mission, according to the CENTCOM statement.

He is survived by his wife and two children.

"Our most sincere thoughts are with the family and teammates of Gunnery Sergeant Koppenhafer during this difficult time," MARSOC officials said in a statement. "MARSOC is providing care and support to Gunnery Sergeant Koppenhafer’s family; we urge respect for their privacy as they grieve this incredible loss."

Koppenhafer is the third U.S. service member to die this year in hostile circumstances in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, the anti-ISIS fight, and the eighth OIR casualty overall for 2019.

He is the first Marine to be killed supporting OIR since March 19, 2016, when Marine Staff Sgt. Louis Cardin died in an enemy rocket attack at an artillery outpost near Makhmour, Iraq.

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.