By Capt. Chris DemoDecember 1, 2008
CAMP TAJI, Iraq - Maintenance technicians are often unsung heroes as they work behind the scenes to keep the U.S. Army mission capable.
Sgt. Neal Neputo, a tech at Taji's Tactical Unmanned Aerial Systems Launch and Recovery Site, is one of those heroes; his quiet, unassuming yet professional demeanor help him blend in, although his work often stands out.
Neputo conducts repairs, inspections and scheduled maintenance on his site's unmanned aerial vehicles, keeping them up and running for the daily flights providing air-to-ground reconnaissance and surveillance in near real-time video footage. Units throughout Multi-National Division - Baghdad benefit from his work, which potentially saves lives.
The oldest of six children, Neputo was born in the Philippine province of Zambales in 1969. It wasn't until he was 31 years old that Neputo immigrated from the Philippines. He arrived in Hawaii in March 2000, reuniting with his parents who'd lived there since 1991. Before leaving the Philippines, he earned a graduate degree as a mechanical engineer, mastered playing the guitar and the ukulele, and had spent time working as a commercial spear fisherman and carpenter.
"The heat here has nothing on the heat of the sun on the open water," Neputo said, recalling his days as a spear fisherman. "Diving was something that became natural, but Embolism always lingered in the back of my mind."
Soon after Neputo arrived in the United States, he enlisted in the Army and attended training at Fort Knox, Ky., and advanced individual training at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Md. He didn't stay in the United States for long as his first duty station was with the 4th Squadron, 7th Cavalry Regiment, at Camp Gerry Owen, Korea.
It was during his second tour in Korea in 2004 that he began to develop a knack for chess. His skills earned him an invitation to try out for the All Army Chess Team. He slugged it out with 15 other chess players from across the Army to earn a spot on the six-man team. That particular team went on to compete in the Intra Service Chess Tournament, and Neputo helped his team place second.
"Chess requires patience, which is a virtue I'm still trying to master," he said. "To be considered one of the best in the Army is quite an honor."
He continues to develop his passion for chess throughout this deployment. In March, he entered and won a tournament featuring six other chess players from across Camp Taji. He still plays a good deal over the internet and said he plans to compete once again for a spot on the All Army Chess Team shortly after he redeploys.
Being the resourceful and passionate Soldier that he is, he has found a way of keeping another one of his distinctive hobbies alive throughout this deployment. Every Saturday evening at 6 p.m., Neputo can be found at the Tigris River Chapel, playing his guitar to liven up the hymns sung during the Catholic Mass.
All in all, his hobbies and his light-hearted attitude help him deal with the stresses of this, his second deployment. When he gets back to Hawaii, he said he looks forward to spending time with his wife, Charina, and their three daughters and two sons. He is also looking forward to spending time developing another hobby: road biking.