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Guard member, war hero becomes life member.

When Derek Peeples was sworn in with the Tennessee Army National Guard on Sept. 9, 2001, the former U.S. Marine looked forward to one weekend a month and two weeks a year until he closed 20 years of service. Two days later, everything changed.

By April of 2003, he was enroute to Kuwait for a six-month tour, continents away from his job as a computer technician in Memphis and his wife and three children. Like many members of the Guard and Reserve called to active duty, the title "weekend warrior" would no longer apply to Staff Sergeant Derek Peeples.

"We didn't think the Guard would take him out of the state very often, more or less out of the country. Then we didn't think he'd leave Kuwait. Then we didn't think he'd go very far into Iraq, just up past the border. Then we just prayed he'd be safe," said his wife Sheronda.

Peeples and his unit were making daily convoy runs from Kuwait to Baghdad, one of the most perilous missions for troops serving in Iraq.

By the middle of April 2004, the word finally came down for Peeples' unit to pack up their tents and head home. Then, a new commander ordered one more trip.

"We wanted to knock it out and get the hell out of there," Peeples recalled. "We thought it'd be just another run."

Driving a five-ton gun truck, Peeples and his team set out to escort M1A1 battle tanks from Kuwait to Najaf. On April 17, on the outskirts of the city of Diwaniyah, the convoy was ambushed. Though Peeples' gun truck made it clear through the attack, he wasn't through. He drove through the unfriendly city, pushing trucks out of his way, and back to the scene of an intense firefight.

"We got there just in time," Peeples said. "One truck was stalled, so we laid down fire until we could get it out."

As improvised explosive devices exploded on both sides of his vehicle, Peeples drove with one hand on the wheel and the other on the pistol grip of his M-16 firing at an enemy he couldn't see.

Two 50 caliber gunners on Peeples' truck held off the attackers long enough for the convoy to escape the enemy's assault.

After leaving the firefight, the team paused for a medical evacuation. Insurgents followed the sound of the helicopter and tried to down it as Peeples and his men fought again. They drove through the night, without time to think about the three soldiers in the fight who died in combat.

"What had happened to us didn't sink in until later, the following morning, when we returned," Peeples remembered. "I know we were lucky to survive."

Just days before, Peeples and his men had fortified their truck with scrap armor. For most of his tour, he said, they drove without it. "We didn't even know what kind of body armor was out there. We just had flak jackets for the longest time," he said.

One month later, Peeples returned to his wife Sheronda and their three children. A month after his return, he was awarded the Bronze Star Medal with "Valor" device for acts of heroism that fateful day. U.S. Representative Harold Ford, Jr. pinned the medal upon his chest.

"After they read the citation, all I could say was that I wished all of us could have been together," said Peeples, whose fellow wartime soldiers were scattered throughout the state.

He found new comrades quickly. His wife was a VA research assistant who often had lunch with Ron Campbell, past Department Commander and Hospital Service Coordinator for Veterans Affairs medical center in Memphis. Campbell helped the sergeant with his claim. Already, Peeples has received a disability rating. Chapter 70 in Memphis sponsored the sergeant's life membership, and Peeples is encouraging his fellow war veterans to seek consultation if they were injured as a result of their service.

"I will continue to relate my experiences to my fellow veterans," Peeples said. "I tell them that they might need DAV's knowledge. Many still don't know about the benefits they are entitled to. I tell them the DAV will get your back. And I hope they listen."

Disabled Veterans Can Qualify for Paralympics

Disabled veteran athletes can now set their sights even higher and become eligible to compete in some of the nation's premiere athletic venues, thanks to an agreement between the United States Olympic Committee and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

The agreement means that participants in the National Disabled Veterans Winter Sports Clinic and National Veterans Wheelchair Games will be able to qualify for positions on the prestigious U.S. Paralympic Team and the U.S. Paralympic National Teams.

These two marquee sporting events for disabled veterans can now serve as a pipeline in providing competitors for American Paralympic teams engaged in national and international competition.

"Past National Commander Chad Colley is a great example of what disabled veteran athletes can accomplish," said National Director of Voluntary Services Edward E. Hartman. Colley, who lost his legs and an arm in Vietnam combat, hit the ski slopes in 1983 and took on the challenge of competitive skiing. He won gold medals in the downhill and the Super G races at the 1992 Paralympic Games in Albertville, France.

The winter sports clinic is co-sponsored by VA and the Disabled American Veterans. It is an annual rehabilitation program open to all U.S. military veterans with spinal cord injuries or diseases, visual impairments, certain neurological conditions, orthopedic amputations or other disabilities, who receive care at any VA health care facility.

The annual wheelchair games are presented by VA and Paralyzed Veterans of America, and are open to all U.S. military veterans who use wheelchairs for sports competition after having suffered spinal cord injuries, certain neurological conditions, amputations or other mobility impairments.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Derek Peeples
Author:Clare, D.
Publication:DAV Magazine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2006
Words:978
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