In the Spotlight

News & Features
Go to War in Iraq
DocumentWar in Iraq
DocumentCoverage from National Public Radio
Your Voice
DocumentJoin the conversation with other MPR listeners in the News Forum.

DocumentE-mail this pageDocumentPrint this page
Army recalls 58-year-old retired officer from Eagan
Larger view
Joe Repya led a counter demonstration of veterans in June during an appearance by John Kerry at the University of Minnesota. (MPR file photo)

Eagan, Minn. — (AP) Retired Lt. Col. Joe Repya, 58, is going back to the Army and Iraq, 14 years after he flew a combat helicopter there during Desert Storm.

He will be in far more dangerous campaign than he's seen recently in Minnesota, where he's had a key role in President Bush's re-election effort in the state.

"I'm worried about the kidding I'll get from those young soldiers," said Repya, who will give up his post as co-chairman of Minnesota Veterans for Bush-Cheney. "I'm sure the Army will give me an extra set of bifocals."

A return to active duty at Repya's age is "very rare," said Col. Denny Shields, a spokesman for the Minnesota National Guard.

The Bush campaign called his response to the call-up an extraordinary display of patriotism. "He's an American hero who has worked tirelessly on behalf of our president," said Tracey Schmitt, the campaign's regional spokeswoman.

"He's been critical to building up our campaign, and he's done a lot of national TV for us," she said. "He personifies the American spirit."

A leader of Minnesota veterans supporting Democrat John Kerry had a different take. Andrew Borene, a former Marine lieutenant from Edina who served in Iraq, said the call-up is a sign of trouble in a worsening war.

"This guy clearly has heart, and we respect his commitment and service, but he's going to walk into a vastly different situation than the one I left," Borene said.

Repya, of Eagan, broke onto the Minnesota political scene in March 2003 by printing and distributing 30,000 "Liberate Iraq - Support our Troops" yard signs. He went on to become a delegate at this year's Republican National Convention in New York.

Of the war, Repya said, "No football game always goes the way the coach maps it out. ... It's not as bad as John Kerry has made it out. This is not a quagmire, this is not a Vietnam, and it's disgraceful that Democrats say this president has gotten us into a quagmire."

Repya said that on the day after the Sept. 11 attacks, he volunteered to come out of retirement. On Thursday, he got official word that he must report on Oct. 1 to Fort Campbell, Ky., for service with the 101st Airborne Division.

He's likely to be in Iraq or thereabouts by January.

Although he passed a physical this summer that would allow him to return to flying helicopters, he said he believes he will probably wind up on the general staff at the division level.

Repya, who grew up in Gary, Ind., was a lieutenant in charge of an infantry rifle platoon in Vietnam in 1970 and 1971. He later became a helicopter pilot. He left active duty in 1979 to pursue a civilian career but served with National Guard units.

In 1990, he re-entered active duty and flew about 35 hours in combat helicopter missions in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iraq with the 1st Infantry Division.

Ending up in Minnesota and the senatorial campaign of Norm Coleman, he was inspired by war protests to counter with the yard-sign campaign.

Repya said he's taking some ribbing from friends, but "most people, their jaws just drop, and they thank me for doing this."

Respond to this story
News Headlines
Related Subjects