Military honors were presented, including a rifle salute and the playing of taps. Members of the Marine Forces Special Operations Command that Koppenhafer served with attended in uniform to honor their fellow Marine.
Family, friends and Marines who served beside Koppenhafer spoke of his character, devotion to military service and love of family and co-workers.
Koppenhafer, known by many as “Kope,” used “sandpaper love” to motivate those around him to work harder and smarter.
“If he was kidding you, it meant he loved you and wanted your best effort,” said longtime friend Mike Montoya.
As a Marine, he excelled, earning promotions and numerous awards, which he often kept to himself. His partnership with his fellow Marines and dedication to the mission were more important than the accolades, said a Marine who served beside him.
“The most important thing for Kope was that the entire team came home alive. His sole purpose was to help his fellow soldiers,” the Marine said. “He made us better, elevated us to perform. By pushing us, he was saying he cared.”
Chaplain Aaron Wesson acknowledged the “difficult and painful” time and that the ceremony was to seek closure and cherish the memories.
“The fact that he is not here does not sit well, there is a hole in our life and hearts,” he said. “His memory will live on. He was a solid man who was willing to fight and die for his country.”
Koppenhafer’s work ethic was contagious, said Marine Master Sgt. Keith Dawson, and a quality obvious from his upbringing and time spent ranching and wrestling at Mancos High School as a youth.
“You saw it when you shook his mother’s hand, full of strength and resolve,” Dawson said.
Growing up, Koppenhafer was a fierce wrestler at Mancos High and Adams State University in Alamosa, where he earned a business degree.
“He was a great athlete and practiced wrestling all the time with his older brother, sometimes ending up in fights,” Montoya said. “But they always came back together and were very close.”
Playing soldier as kids, Montoya recalled that the Koppenhafer brothers were more scared of their sister and mother, who would chase them down while practicing “ambushes and clearing a room.”
While serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, his mantra was “just do your job,” said a Marine Lt. who served with Koppenhafer.
“He knew that if each member did their job, the likely outcome would be positive. He was a Marine’s Marine.”
On the family ranch, a symbolic image arose that was “pure Scott.”
While riding horseback on the cattle range, a coyote wandered across the meadow. With “reins in his teeth and both guns blazing,” Koppenhafer did not hesitate to chase it down to protect the herd.
“That is how he went at life, reins in teeth, sank spur, always tilting forward,” Rhodes said.
He died from combat wounds in Iraq while “he was where he wanted to be, and doing what he wanted to do,” Rhodes said.
After getting married and having kids, Koppenhafer also rose to a new challenge, deftly balancing work life and family life, speakers said.
It was great to hear him talk about his wife and kids, not just the military, Montoya said. “His life revolved around his family.”
Fellow Marine Mark Feller remembered how hard Koppenhafer pushed his peers.
“He would push you more than you thought you could go,” Feller said. “I’m a better soldier for seeing him work.”
At the ceremony, it was announced Koppenhafer was awarded a Purple Heart by the U.S. Marine Corps.
Koppenhafer died Aug. 10 in Iraq after suffering fatal wounds while supporting Iraqi Security Forces. He was assigned to the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion, Marine Forces Special Operations Command (MARSOC), Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. He was a member of the elite Marine Raiders, which is tasked with direct action, special reconnaissance, counter-terrorism and information operations.
He is survived by his wife and two children.
He joined the Marine Corps in 2005 and spent the past 10 years as a MARSOC critical skills operator. Before joining the Marines special operations, he was a machine gunner with 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, and later as a scout sniper, completing deployments with both the 31st and 11th Marine Expeditionary Units.
Koppenhafer completed special operations training in 2009 as an honor graduate, and during his first MARSOC deployment to Afghanistan was promoted to the rank of staff sergeant. He completed three additional deployments as a member of 2nd Marine Raider Battalion and was selected as MARSOC’s 2018 Critical Skills Operator of the Year.
His personal decorations 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, one Humanitarian Service Medal, two Combat Action Ribbons, four Good Conduct Medals, the National Defense Service Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and six Sea Service Deployment Ribbons.
According to military citations, Koppenhafer won his first Bronze Star after helping rescue Afghan civilians by attacking insurgents in October 2012, and by aiding teammates who were pinned by insurgents in December 2012.
“His aggressive and bold leadership under fire inspired those around him and was instrumental in defeating enemy forces,” the award citation reads.
His second Bronze Star came for heroic actions in September 2017, when he and his team established a forward position in a sandstorm against ISIS militants.
“Throughout the day, he supported his partner force from a series of over-watch positions while enduring enemy machine gun fire, small arms attacks, and an attempted dynamic armored vehicle borne improvised explosive device attack that detonated several hundred meters from his position,” the award citation reads.