Biography

Coming Home

Story and Media by
Anne Sanders
Media by
Zach Lanphier
Written by
Anne Sanders

Their first meat of the winter was a moose killed by a wolf in their front yard. As a one year old, Zack Lanphier was pulled by his mom on a sled through the woods and over a creek along the trail to their house. His family temporarily moved to a house on the Matanuska River, but eventually returned to their homestead property, deep in the heart of the Buffalo Mine area outside of Palmer, Alaska, when he was a young teenager. They lived “off the grid,” as Zack says, before it was considered cool. Their property could only be accessed by an old four wheeler trail so he spent his summers developing the trail and the land with his family. They turned the trail into an actual road an impressive four miles long. Zack remembers with fondness getting ready for school by the light of a Coleman lantern, and recalled with clarity taking baths with a five gallon bucket. “It was an ordeal getting ready for school,” he admitted in an interview. But for Zack, Alaska was home, it was where he was safe, and it wasn’t until his time spent overseas that he fully realized how true that was.

At seventeen he persuaded his parents to allow him to join the Marines. He signed up in the year 2000, when the U.S. was in relative peace. He never expected he would be shipped overseas the next year—two weeks after the fateful terrorist attack on September 11, 2001. As a boy his thoughts had never been set on joining the military. A perceptive recruiter saw his potential and picked him out of his group of friends. He could never have anticipated being a part of the war on terror, but he never regretted it. In his own words, “If I wasn’t prepared for this, than I shouldn’t have joined the Marines.”

Zack served as a combat engineer in the first invasion of Iraq known as Operation Iraqi Freedom-I (OIF-I). His unit was at the front lines breaking through the border between Kuwait and Iraq. The border, built by the U.S. after the Persian Gulf War, was a formidable obstacle made up of layers of fencing, berms, and ditches. The objective was Baghdad, and after breaching the border they had half the country to cross over. When they reached the city of Nasiriyah, he experienced his first actual firefight.

At nineteen years old, Zack was a combat veteran. He revealed how, “I didn’t realize the weight of what was going on, but looking back, here I was, nineteen years old, had already filled out a will, figured out what to do with my remains … we actively carried our own body bags, and it was just normal for me at that time. But here at nineteen I was making life and death decisions for other people.” Zack described how he compartmentalized everything. In that first firefight, looking back on it, “I had come to terms and accepted my own death … and after that you are just numb.”

After reaching Baghdad his unit continued on, making advances towards other cities. They were so far ahead of the rest of the U.S. forces they were out of range for getting supplies, causing them to have to ration to one bottle of water and one MRE a day. Zack described one night, which was one of the most intense and stressful times for him during the war. His unit was dug in on the front line and he was walking out to relieve someone. Since they were on the front line he couldn’t use a glow stick and didn’t have anything to aid his vision. The only light that could be seen was from a muzzle flash or explosions in the distance. Zack described the blackness of the night as his father would say, “It was darker than the inside of a cow.” After walking for a ways he came to the frightening conclusion he should have already come across someone, and that he was likely in enemy territory. He had to turn around and walk back to the line facing, essentially, open fire. There were guys with guns ready, waiting for movement, pointed right at him, and somehow he had to make it back and identify himself before anyone thought he was a hostile. He whistled the Marine Corp Hymn, and did all he could to let people know it was him without letting too many people know he was out there. Thankfully … eventually, he got someone’s attention.

Zack went back to Iraq for a second tour and fought in Operation Iraqi Freedom-II (OIF-II). Unlike OIF-I, where the Iraqi civilians greeted them as liberators with cheers and thanksgiving, in OIF-II their only welcome was silent streets and the constant fear of guerrilla tactics such as car bombs, mortars, suicide bombers, and snipers. The rules of engagement had changed. For Zack, OIF-II carries a lot of emotional weight and baggage. He explained, “You are living in fear and stress constantly because you never know when something can explode.” It was on this tour where Zack received a purple heart for heroic action and injuries he sustained during combat. His unit was working on setting up a perimeter by building barriers and checkpoints, during the much publicized Battle of Fallujah. They were set up at one of these barriers when a couple of Iraqi men came walking towards them. The men were pacing, counting audibly, the distance between the barrier and a known structure to determine the coordinates for a mortar strike. They were unarmed, so Zack and his fellow Marines could not engage them in any way. Fifteen minutes later, mortars were dropping right on top of them. In the act of shielding a couple of people, Zack ended up taking shrapnel in his back. Thankfully, no one in his unit lost their life.

When Zack left the Marines in 2005, he struggled with the transition into civilian life. Since he had joined the Marines at seventeen, his entire adult life up to that point had been spent in the military. The everyday responsibilities of life such as rent and bills were foreign to him. Meshing with civilians was also hard. He was used to discipline and respect, and found it difficult adjusting to people who have the luxury of living without it. Zack describes that point of his life as his ‘dark place.’ He was in San Diego for a while, and eventually reached a point where he knew he couldn’t continue leading the type of lifestyle he was in. He decided to get an associate’s degree in criminal justice, and in the meantime made healthier, positive choices. Through pure determination he was able to work through his problems, and eventually decided to move back to his home, Palmer. “It was where I knew it was safe.”

In Palmer, Zack reconnected with a long-time friend, creator of Tundra Comics, Chad Carpenter. Their relationship began when Zack was ten and Chad was in his twenties. Zack came across Chad’s booth at the Alaska State Fair and from then on, Chad could hardly get rid of him. Zack admitted that Chad would actually pay him two dollars so he would leave him alone for two hours to give Chad a chance to get some work done. Every year from then on, Zack would spend every day of the fair with Chad.

Eventually their relationship became more than that of an adult indulging an annoying kid, but became a genuine friendship. Chad would trust Zack to work his booth, and they would even collaborate and create comics together. When Zack was in the Marines he would make sure his leave time coordinated with the fair. So when Zack returned to Palmer to live, their friendship prompted Chad to entrust Zack with even more responsibility. Chad needed help selling Tundra products, and Zack was eager to be a part of something that was light and fun, but also to prove to himself that he could work and be successful outside of the military.

Now that he’s home and settled in Palmer, Zack keeps himself busy. The fun he was having with Tundra gave Zack the inspiration to start a newspaper full of everyone’s favorite section, the funnies. Zack’s publication, Funnies Extra-Matsu, is full of comics, games, and puzzles and distributed across the Mat-Su Valley. Zack also works as a teacher for the school district. Soon he will be starring in a local movie production based off of a graphic novel created by Chad and his brother, Darin Carpenter, called Moose. So, if you see Zack around town in a park ranger costume being chased by a mythical half moose/half human beast known as a “moose-ataur,” don’t be alarmed.

No items found.

Coming Home

Biography

Author

Anne Sanders

Anne Sanders was born and raised in Alaska. She graduated with a B.A. in English Literature from the University of Alaska Anchorage. With a love for the written word, she recognizes the treasure of stories and fascinating people Alaska offers. Paired with her husband Cecil who compliments her narratives with his eye for the visual, Anne is on a mission to bring her beloved home of Alaska to life on the pages of Last Frontier Magazine.

Their first meat of the winter was a moose killed by a wolf in their front yard. As a one year old, Zack Lanphier was pulled by his mom on a sled through the woods and over a creek along the trail to their house. His family temporarily moved to a house on the Matanuska River, but eventually returned to their homestead property, deep in the heart of the Buffalo Mine area outside of Palmer, Alaska, when he was a young teenager. They lived “off the grid,” as Zack says, before it was considered cool. Their property could only be accessed by an old four wheeler trail so he spent his summers developing the trail and the land with his family. They turned the trail into an actual road an impressive four miles long. Zack remembers with fondness getting ready for school by the light of a Coleman lantern, and recalled with clarity taking baths with a five gallon bucket. “It was an ordeal getting ready for school,” he admitted in an interview. But for Zack, Alaska was home, it was where he was safe, and it wasn’t until his time spent overseas that he fully realized how true that was.

At seventeen he persuaded his parents to allow him to join the Marines. He signed up in the year 2000, when the U.S. was in relative peace. He never expected he would be shipped overseas the next year—two weeks after the fateful terrorist attack on September 11, 2001. As a boy his thoughts had never been set on joining the military. A perceptive recruiter saw his potential and picked him out of his group of friends. He could never have anticipated being a part of the war on terror, but he never regretted it. In his own words, “If I wasn’t prepared for this, than I shouldn’t have joined the Marines.”

Zack served as a combat engineer in the first invasion of Iraq known as Operation Iraqi Freedom-I (OIF-I). His unit was at the front lines breaking through the border between Kuwait and Iraq. The border, built by the U.S. after the Persian Gulf War, was a formidable obstacle made up of layers of fencing, berms, and ditches. The objective was Baghdad, and after breaching the border they had half the country to cross over. When they reached the city of Nasiriyah, he experienced his first actual firefight.

At nineteen years old, Zack was a combat veteran. He revealed how, “I didn’t realize the weight of what was going on, but looking back, here I was, nineteen years old, had already filled out a will, figured out what to do with my remains … we actively carried our own body bags, and it was just normal for me at that time. But here at nineteen I was making life and death decisions for other people.” Zack described how he compartmentalized everything. In that first firefight, looking back on it, “I had come to terms and accepted my own death … and after that you are just numb.”

After reaching Baghdad his unit continued on, making advances towards other cities. They were so far ahead of the rest of the U.S. forces they were out of range for getting supplies, causing them to have to ration to one bottle of water and one MRE a day. Zack described one night, which was one of the most intense and stressful times for him during the war. His unit was dug in on the front line and he was walking out to relieve someone. Since they were on the front line he couldn’t use a glow stick and didn’t have anything to aid his vision. The only light that could be seen was from a muzzle flash or explosions in the distance. Zack described the blackness of the night as his father would say, “It was darker than the inside of a cow.” After walking for a ways he came to the frightening conclusion he should have already come across someone, and that he was likely in enemy territory. He had to turn around and walk back to the line facing, essentially, open fire. There were guys with guns ready, waiting for movement, pointed right at him, and somehow he had to make it back and identify himself before anyone thought he was a hostile. He whistled the Marine Corp Hymn, and did all he could to let people know it was him without letting too many people know he was out there. Thankfully … eventually, he got someone’s attention.

Zack went back to Iraq for a second tour and fought in Operation Iraqi Freedom-II (OIF-II). Unlike OIF-I, where the Iraqi civilians greeted them as liberators with cheers and thanksgiving, in OIF-II their only welcome was silent streets and the constant fear of guerrilla tactics such as car bombs, mortars, suicide bombers, and snipers. The rules of engagement had changed. For Zack, OIF-II carries a lot of emotional weight and baggage. He explained, “You are living in fear and stress constantly because you never know when something can explode.” It was on this tour where Zack received a purple heart for heroic action and injuries he sustained during combat. His unit was working on setting up a perimeter by building barriers and checkpoints, during the much publicized Battle of Fallujah. They were set up at one of these barriers when a couple of Iraqi men came walking towards them. The men were pacing, counting audibly, the distance between the barrier and a known structure to determine the coordinates for a mortar strike. They were unarmed, so Zack and his fellow Marines could not engage them in any way. Fifteen minutes later, mortars were dropping right on top of them. In the act of shielding a couple of people, Zack ended up taking shrapnel in his back. Thankfully, no one in his unit lost their life.

When Zack left the Marines in 2005, he struggled with the transition into civilian life. Since he had joined the Marines at seventeen, his entire adult life up to that point had been spent in the military. The everyday responsibilities of life such as rent and bills were foreign to him. Meshing with civilians was also hard. He was used to discipline and respect, and found it difficult adjusting to people who have the luxury of living without it. Zack describes that point of his life as his ‘dark place.’ He was in San Diego for a while, and eventually reached a point where he knew he couldn’t continue leading the type of lifestyle he was in. He decided to get an associate’s degree in criminal justice, and in the meantime made healthier, positive choices. Through pure determination he was able to work through his problems, and eventually decided to move back to his home, Palmer. “It was where I knew it was safe.”

In Palmer, Zack reconnected with a long-time friend, creator of Tundra Comics, Chad Carpenter. Their relationship began when Zack was ten and Chad was in his twenties. Zack came across Chad’s booth at the Alaska State Fair and from then on, Chad could hardly get rid of him. Zack admitted that Chad would actually pay him two dollars so he would leave him alone for two hours to give Chad a chance to get some work done. Every year from then on, Zack would spend every day of the fair with Chad.

Eventually their relationship became more than that of an adult indulging an annoying kid, but became a genuine friendship. Chad would trust Zack to work his booth, and they would even collaborate and create comics together. When Zack was in the Marines he would make sure his leave time coordinated with the fair. So when Zack returned to Palmer to live, their friendship prompted Chad to entrust Zack with even more responsibility. Chad needed help selling Tundra products, and Zack was eager to be a part of something that was light and fun, but also to prove to himself that he could work and be successful outside of the military.

Now that he’s home and settled in Palmer, Zack keeps himself busy. The fun he was having with Tundra gave Zack the inspiration to start a newspaper full of everyone’s favorite section, the funnies. Zack’s publication, Funnies Extra-Matsu, is full of comics, games, and puzzles and distributed across the Mat-Su Valley. Zack also works as a teacher for the school district. Soon he will be starring in a local movie production based off of a graphic novel created by Chad and his brother, Darin Carpenter, called Moose. So, if you see Zack around town in a park ranger costume being chased by a mythical half moose/half human beast known as a “moose-ataur,” don’t be alarmed.

No items found.

Author

Anne Sanders

Author & Media

Anne Sanders

Media Contributor

Zach Lanphier

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