Saturday, August 29, 2009

Army Staff Sgt. Jason S. Dahlke

Remember Our Heroes

Army Staff Sgt. Jason S. Dahlke, 29, of Orlando, Fla.

SSgt Dahlke was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, Hunter Army Airfield, Ga.; died Aug. 29, 2009 in Paktika province, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained when he was shot by enemy forces Aug. 28, 2009 while conducting combat operations.

Orlando Sentinel -- You would never know by looking at Staff Sgt. Jason Dahlke that he was a U.S. Army Ranger, his father Roger Dahlke said.

The University of Central Florida graduate rarely talked about work. He was happy-go-lucky. Easy to talk to. Pleasant to be around. Still, Jason's passion was clear.

"'Dad,' he said. 'I love my job'," Roger Dahlke recalled his son saying during a recent visit with his parents at their Jacksonville home.

On Saturday, Jason, 29, died during a firefight in a rugged, mountainous area of Paktika province, Afghanistan, according to Army officials. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, which is based at Hunter Army Airfield, Ga.

It was Jason's third deployment to Afghanistan, and sixth overall.

"It was what he wanted to do," Roger said of Jason's career as an Army Ranger. "We all knew the dangers and the risks."

A second soldier in the same regiment, Pfc. Eric W. Hario, 19, of Monroe, Mich., died that day during the same firefight.

Jason was born Nov. 8, 1979 in Tampa and raised in Jacksonville with his brother and three sisters. Even as a child, he was easy to get along with. He struck up conversations with his parents' friends, and hung out with peers who were outgoing like him.

"Everybody liked him. People were just drawn to him," Roger said.

Jason met his future wife, then named Niki Norvell, in grade school, his mother-in-law Stephanie Norvell said.

In high school, they re-connected. Jason was fun and adventurous. Niki loved him because he made her laugh, her sister Amy Jensen said.

They went to prom together. And when Niki moved to Orlando for college, Jason followed. He couldn't do without her.

"It was one of those high school romances," Norvell said.

Jason thought about going into law-enforcement and majored in criminal justice at UCF. Around his third year of college, the young man began to talk to his father about joining the military, Roger said.

Jason graduated from UCF in early 2004, Jensen said. That May he enlisted.

In June 2005 Jason became a Ranger. Three months later, Jason and Niki got married.

"In her words, 'he was the best,'" Jensen recalled Niki saying.

Jason said little to his parents about his job. Doing so could end his career as a Ranger.

Jason won a Purple Heart and two Army Commendation Medals, according to Army officials, but never mentioned them to his parents.

"We didn't know anything until we searched on the Internet. There was his picture, getting a Purple Heart," Roger said.

They didn't know where he was serving, either.

On Saturday, Army officials knocked on Roger's door, bearing the news of Jason's death. They didn't need to speak.

"I opened the door and I saw them standing there. I knew," Roger said. "It's just a sad thing."

Army Staff Sgt. Jason S. Dahlke was killed in action on 8/29/09.

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