Friday, January 08, 2010

Army Sgt. Ryan J. Hopkins

Remember Our Heroes

Army Sgt Ryan Jeffrey Hopkins, 21, died on January 8, 2010 at Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC) on Ft. Sam Houston, Texas. Ryan was born in Livermore, CA August 13, 1988.

A friend once asked Army Sgt. Ryan Hopkins if he minded people staring at the severe burns he got from a fuel explosion in Iraq, his mother recalled. "His response was, 'They're staring because I'm so good-looking,' " Janet Hopkins said.

His family, including his wife — whom he met in the military and served with in Iraq — had said the soldier who grew up in Livermore was making progress and was well past the point of surviving the accident.

But the 21-year-old died unexpectedly Jan. 8 in a Texas military hospital (Brooke Army Medical Center) after undergoing one of many reconstructive surgeries in the past year.

Born in his family's home with the help of a midwife, Ryan Hopkins was the youngest of three boys and one girl. Neither of their parents has a military background — his mom describes herself as a "Haight Street hippie" — but all three boys entered the military. Aaron Hopkins joined the Navy before Ryan enlisted, while Chad Hopkins, joined the Army after Ryan did.

Family said Hopkins never expressed an interest in the military while growing up, and enjoyed skateboarding, golf, off-roading, snowboarding and wakeboarding. Yet, shortly after graduating from Livermore High School, while working locally as a waiter, he enlisted. His parents had to give permission because he was not yet 18. After basic training he was stationed at Fort Carson in Colorado, and met his wife, Kitty, who was in his unit.

"I think he really just wanted to get out of Livermore," Kitty Hopkins said about why he joined. She said neither planned to make the military their careers. After fulfilling four years of service, Ryan wanted to go to school. They married in September 2007, and three months later were deployed to Iraq.

Kitty Hopkins said they lived together on base. Although they had the same specialty of driving trucks, they didn't work together. He drove an armored vehicle, providing escort.

Ryan never saw combat. Kitty said her husband was burned while using a cigarette lighter to check fuel levels, a mistake she said came from the complacency of a job done many times.

He had second- and third-degree burns from the waist up and injuries from inhaling the fire. He was in a medically induced coma for two weeks, and intensive care for four months following the Oct. 7, 2008 accident.

He had stopped using a breathing tube, had learned to stand and regained the use of his hands — the fire also caused him to lose a pinkie finger.

"He had to build himself back," Kitty Hopkins said. There were also other issues. "He had to deal with people staring, which isn't easy."

Hopkins was expected to survive, with five years of treatment expected. The couple bought a house in Converse, Texas, so he could be near Fort Sam Houston, where he was treated.

His dad, David Hopkins, said Ryan was a leader for other wounded veterans there. While he needed assistance with some things, he drove to his parents' home last month for Christmas.

His latest reconstructive surgery — one of two dozen procedures he had — was supposed to be routine, family said. It lasted a few hours and he was awake by the evening, Kitty Hopkins said, but the next morning he was found in bed not breathing.

A cause of death has not been determined, which will determine if he is counted as a war casualty, said Dewey Mitchell, chief of public affairs at Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston.

Family said more than 200 people attended the funeral and he was buried at Roselawn Cemetery in Livermore.

Army Sgt Ryan Jeffrey Hopkins died 1/8/10 from wounds received in the line of action.

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