Originally created 04/09/03

Man rescued in desert phones ordeal to wife



SAVANNAH, Ga. - Pfc. Deanna Klein was returning to her south Georgia home from a week's visit with her in-laws in Kentucky when she became stuck in traffic on Interstate 75.

Her cell phone rang.

When she answered, on the other end was the unmistakable voice of her husband, Spc. Jeffrey Klein, 20, who is deployed in Iraq as part of the 3rd Infantry Division.

"Deanna, please don't hang up," he said during the March 28 conversation. "I'm OK, I'm OK."

Not fully comprehending what her husband was trying to say, she began to tell him everything that had been happening since they last spoke.

He interrupted.

"You don't know what happened?" he asked her.

"No," his wife replied.

Only then did she learn that her husband had been missing for nearly a week in Iraq.

Spc. Klein, a mechanic, and Sgt. Matthew Koppi, 22, of Asheville, N.C., had been dispatched to tow an officer's broken vehicle. On the way, the clutch on their Humvee broke, stranding the soldiers in the hostile Iraqi desert.

They were ordered by a staff sergeant to stay with the vehicle and wait until they were picked up. Hours passed without any sign of rescue.

The men set up a defensive perimeter around the vehicle, pulling shifts to keep an eye out for enemy soldiers.

For the next seven days, Spc. Klein and Sgt. Koppi were separated from their unit, living off a five-gallon can of water and a box of Army rations. They scraped an SOS into the sand.

"Jeffrey told me (that) during the time they were in the desert, he was visited by curious Iraqi civilians. Apparently, they were hungry, so he shared some of his food with them." Pfc. Klein said.

He told his wife he was scared during his ordeal.

The two soldiers were rescued by Marines who were flying a mission over the area in a Chinook helicopter. They were flown to northern Kuwait for medical checkups.

Under Army policy, the next of kin is notified if a service member is missing in action. Jake Umholtz, the adjutant general for personnel at Fort Stewart, said he made a records search to see whether Spc. Klein had been reported missing, and came up with nothing.

"This is not the way we handle situations such as this," he said. "I have no explanation as to why he was not reported."