Iraq-bound ski instructor gets sendoff | AspenTimes.com

Iraq-bound ski instructor gets sendoff

Joel Stonington

Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times

Aspen, CO ColoradoASPEN A few dozen ski instructors from Buttermilk showed up at the Cantina for an unusual sendoff Sunday night: Dan Hess, 26, is going to Iraq in March. Hess, a Marine lance corporal, was an instructor at the ‘Milk for two seasons before enlisting in the Marines in December 2005. He has been stationed in Hawaii after three months in boot camp and two months in infantry school. He is bound for Haditha in Iraq’s volatile Anbar province. During his 30-day leave this year before going to Iraq, he came back to Aspen to teach skiing.

“He did a great job this Christmas,” said Andy Hanson, head of Buttermilk’s kids division. “He’s enthusiastic; the kids love him. We’re sad to see him go.”In much of the rest of the country, it may not be so unusual for someone to ship off to Iraq. But, it doesn’t happen often in Aspen, though the U.S. has been fighting in Iraq longer than it did in World War II. Hess, who follows in the bootprints of his father and grandfather – both Marines – said he’s always wanted to enter the service. Since it’s against regulations to enlist after the age of 28, Hess decided he should take the opportunity before he got too old.He is acutely aware of the national debate regarding Iraq and recognizes the danger, especially after the number of U.S. military deaths topped 3,000 recently, Hess said.

“We shouldn’t have invaded in the first place,” Hess said. “But I do think we need to leave Iraq in some semblance of stability. We need to fix it somewhat. That’s why we’ll be sending in more troops.”Other ski instructors said they are concerned for his safety. “I’ve talked to him, asking if it’s what he really wants to do,” said Buttermilk instructor Mike Conklin. “He’s like, ‘Yes, it’s what I really want.’ Everybody’s definitely worried, but it’s the path he’s chosen.”Hess laughed at a question about what it’s like to leave Hawaii, then Aspen, for Iraq.

“Yeah, it sucks,” he said, but then his tone changed. “I’ve mentally prepared myself for this. It won’t be a huge emotional strain to leave.”Hess, though, has had more time to prepare than his co-workers.”He’s the only one we know of going over there,” Hanson said. “I’m worried. I’m not for this war. He feels it’s his duty, his calling. He’ll be in our prayers.”Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is jstonington@aspentimes.com

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