StoryCorps' Military Voices Initiative records stories from members of the U.S. military and their families.
Former Army Spc. Garett Reppenhagen has always loved Halloween. Even during his year-long deployment to Iraq in 2004, he still found a way to celebrate.
For a remote StoryCorps conversation earlier this month, Reppenhagen told his friend, Thom Cassidy, who served with Reppenhagen at the time, about a costume choice that almost landed him in hot water: dressing up as his "surly" team leader, Sgt. Richardson.
"He was a character. You know, he's got a shaved head, ears sticking out of the side, mustache," he said. "I thought it'd be really funny if I dressed up like Sgt. Rich."
The scheme required a good measure of stealth. Reppenhagen convinced Sgt. Richardson's roommate to let him borrow a shirt that had Richardson's rank and nameplate on it. He also traveled two bases over to get a coffee mug that looked like the one the sergeant used.
The morning of Halloween, Reppenhagen took his new look down to the cafeteria for breakfast. "Folks kind of see me, they're chuckling, and I dig into my omelet," he said. "And the doors of the chow hall slam open."
In walked the highest ranking enlisted soldier on the base, Reppenhagen said: the command sergeant major. The entire hall went silent.
For a brief moment, the command sergeant major even appeared to fall for his imitation, before sending Reppenhagen to his bunk as punishment.
"He's got this general aura of anger, but he's not extra angry until he gets about like 5 feet from me," Reppenhagen said.
"In the United States Army, it is against the law to impersonate a non-commissioned officer," he added. "So, I was scared."
Hours later, the sergeant major pounded on Reppenhagen's door.
"He says, 'Reppenhagen, that's the most fine Halloween costume I've ever seen in my life,' " he recalled.
To Reppenhagen's surprise, the command sergeant major snapped some pictures of the costume, and left.
Sgt. Richardson, on the other hand, "never really forgave me," Reppenhagen said. But he was ultimately a good sport about the prank.
"I think in a lot of ways, we survived that deployment in Iraq by sharing humor with each other," Reppenhagen said. "I hope that [Sgt. Richardson] thinks about that and laughs sometimes.
"We were doing an awful job in an awful time. If I shed any joy to anybody on that base that day, then I think it was all worth it."
Reppenhagen, who served just over four years in the military, is now the executive director of Veterans for Peace, where he shares his experiences with other vets and allies around the world and encourages the community to help build a "culture of peace."
Audio produced for Weekend Edition by Sylvie Lubow. NPR's Emma Bowman adapted it for the Web.
StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Time now for StoryCorps' Military Voices Initiative, which records and shares the stories of service members and their families.
Army Specialist Garett Reppenhagen has always loved Halloween, so much so that even during his deployment to Iraq in 2004, he found a way to celebrate. His friend Thom Cassidy served with him at the time, and over StoryCorps Connect, Garett told him about a creative costume choice that almost landed him in hot water, dressing up as his team leader.
GARETT REPPENHAGEN: My sniper leader, Sergeant Richardson, he was a character. You know, he's got his shaved head, ears sticking out of the side, mustache, kind of a surly dude, too. So I thought it'd be really funny if I dressed up like Sergeant Rich.
And I had to steal his uniform with the rank and nameplate on it. The morning of Halloween, I bicked (ph) my head. I shaved my mustache down to a perfect square. I had bubblegum in my cheek to make it look like I had chew in my mouth at all times. And to get the ears right, I got some toothpicks, and I (imitating pop) popped those suckers out. And I headed to the chow hall for breakfast.
You know, folks kind of see me. They're chuckling. And I dig into my omelet, and the doors of the chow hall slam open, and in walks the sergeant major.
THOM CASSIDY: Uh-oh.
REPPENHAGEN: The command sergeant major - he's the highest-ranking dude on our entire base. He's always kind of pissed. Like, he's got this general aura of anger. But he's not extra angry till he gets about, like, 5 feet from me.
CASSIDY: Oh, and you pull the okey-doke (ph) on him.
REPPENHAGEN: I think he was looking for Sergeant Richardson to talk to him about something, and I knew I was dead. And he says, Reppenhagen. I popped up in the position of attention. My chair fell over. And he says, what the hell are you doing? And I say, I'm eating breakfast, Sergeant Major. He says, no, what are you doing with that? And he's pointing right at Sergeant Rich's uniform and nameplate. And I say, it's Halloween, Sergeant Major. And he says, throw your chow away, go back to your bunk, and you're not going to leave till I come get you.
So I haul butt back to my bunk. And I paced. In the United States Army, it is against the law to impersonate a noncommissioned officer.
CASSIDY: That's true.
REPPENHAGEN: So I was scared. Hours later, a slamming fist hits my door. So I swallow hard. I swing open the door, and it is the sergeant major. And he says, Reppenhagen, that's the most fine Halloween costume I've ever seen in my life. And he took a couple pictures and walked away.
I think in a lot of ways, we survived that deployment in Iraq by sharing humor with each other. Sergeant Rich never really forgave me, but I hope that he thinks about that and laughs sometimes. We were doing an awful job in an awful time, and if I shed any joy to anybody on that base that day, then I think it was all worth it.
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SIMON: Garett Reppenhagen speaking with his friend Thom Cassidy. They recorded this conversation using StoryCorps Connect, and it will be archived along with the rest of the StoryCorps collection at the U.S. Library of Congress.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.