Seth was born in
Great Barrington, son of Richard A. and Linda R. Briggs Haapanen.
He attended Berkshire Christian School of Lenox, The Master's
Christian School of Pittsfield, and was home schooled during his
high school years.
For most of his life he attended Hope Church in Lenox and was
active in the Boy's Brigade and youth programs there. A devoted
son, brother and friend, he loved being in the company of those
he loved and cared for and was always available with
encouragement and compassion to those in need. Seth was very
down to earth, enjoyed traveling, and the outdoors. Seth had a
passion for children and loved making them happy. His sister
Gabriele, likes to tell the story about Seth’s youthful idea of
fun - which included practicing his paintball aim by putting his
little sisters in bright sweatshirts and telling them to “start
Seth spent his high school year’s homeschooled by his mother
Linda in MA, then moved to Alton in the summer of 2006. He
always had dreams of joining the military and then becoming a
local police officer or state trooper. He sent away for anything
the Army offered - free duffle bags, hats and T-shirts. His goal
was to join the recently formed 237th Military Police
Company at the NH National Guard. The 237th MP’s
became one of the youngest units deployed in NH history; at
least half of the soldiers in the company were 21 or younger.
When Seth found out he made it into company, he was thrilled.
The night before he left for basic training in the spring of
2007, his mother, Linda asked him, “Seth, are you sure you want
to do this?” Seth replied, “I’d rather fight them over on their
own soil than to be fighting them here on our streets.” He was a
protector, said his mother. “He liked making sure that people’s
rights were carried out.” When the company was sent to Iraq in
June of 2007, Seth left with the prayers and the pride of his
family. He had just turned 20.
Seth’s unit joined the 1132nd MP Company of the North Carolina
Army National Guard in Rustamiyah and began training Iraqi
policemen. Their schedule was grueling, with their day starting
at 0400 at Iraqi police stations. There they worked on presence
patrols and were often in the streets on foot, until their day
ended around 1800.
After four and a half months, Seth and three others moved to
Taji to fill out a platoon and support police training efforts
there. The forward operating base, north of Baghdad was more
rural than Rustamiyah. There, Seth’s unit was attacked several
times. On a routine route to an Iraqi police station, the
vehicle in front of Seth’s exploded. The detonation blew out the
front tire of his vehicle and injured team leader, Sgt. Robert
Tabares, sitting to his side. The blast rocked Seth’s head and
ears. Tabares had to be medically evacuated with severe wound.
He was eventually sent back to the states. A second attack only
four days later, killed Seth’s roommate, medic Sgt David ”DJ”
Stelmat Jr., of Littleton, NH.. His vehicle drove over an
improvised explosive device. Stelmat, Sgt Thomas C. Ray II, the
gunner, Sgt. David B. Williams, the team leader, and two Iraqi
translators were all killed in the blast, which lifted the truck
off the road, rocketing it into the air and igniting the
vehicle’s pyrotechnics. Seth arrived early at the scene and
became part of the team that later dealt with and collected the
five men’s remains.
When Seth finally got a chance to call, he told his parents that
his roommate had died. “I can’t do this anymore,” he said to his
mom. “I can’t go out on another mission.”
His family encouraged him to get help. Eventually he went to the
Chaplain who told him he had Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
(PTSD) and probably a Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (MTBI) and he
should see a doctor. Seth was waiting to see someone, but in the
meantime he continued his combat duties.
Taji continued to be a hostile and dangerous area, casualties in
his unit also continued to mount. Staff Sgt. Emanuel Pickett
died. Then under a week later, Sgt. Lance Eakes, who had moved
to Taji to replace Sgt. Stelmat, was killed. The emotional toll
was devastating for the entire unit. Seth’s friends said that
his ever-present smile faded the day that Stelmat died.
Seth returned home, in time to surprise his sister Gabriele at
her graduation from Prospect Mountain High School in Alton. He
walked up on the stage in his uniform, shielded by sunglasses,
to a standing ovation from the crowd. Seth took a
post-deployment mental health screening with the VA in where his
Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) was noted and he also was diagnosed
with PTSD. Seth was being treated for both, with his family’s
love and support.
“The cycle, that we understand was happening, was with the
headaches,” said his father. “He wasn’t getting good sleep and
the times when he would fall asleep he would wake up many times
with nightmares of what he saw.” He continued to struggle with
headaches, blurred vision, pain and light sensitivity. His
memories, dreams and flashbacks were overwhelming him and he had
begun using increasing amounts of alcohol to cope with his
feelings and inability to sleep. His VA records state in an
“assessment of danger to self” that he posed “no significant
risk.” After being home from Iraq for only four months, and
despite under-going treatment for TBI and PTSD, Seth took his