Saturday, October 17, 2009

Army Spc. Michael A. Dahl Jr.

Remember Our Heroes

Army Spc. Michael A. Dahl Jr., 23, of Moreno Valley, Calif.

Spc. Dahl was assigned to 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment, 5th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, Fort Lewis, Wash.; died Oct. 17, 2009 in Argahndab, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked his vehicle with an IED.

The soldier was killed when his tank was hit by a roadside bomb in Arghandab in southwest Afghanistan's Kandahar province, on the Pakistani border.

Michael A. Dahl Jr. was "a caring guy that would do almost anything for anybody," a buddy says. "Not only was he a great friend, he was a good soldier."

By Molly Hennessy-Fiske

It was always important to to be responsible, to support himself and his family and shield them from worry.

"He was an inspiration to me," said his mother, Patricia Dahl, 42, who is divorced from her son's father. "Sometimes it's hard being a single parent. But he kept me going."

An Army crewman on armored vehicles, he never told her that he was fighting on the front lines.

The last time she talked to her son, he told her not to worry, that he was going on his last mission and he probably wouldn't be able to talk to her for a few days.

Two days later, on , Army Spc. Dahl, 23, of Beaumont, Calif., was killed Beaumont, Calif.,when his tank was hit by a roadside bomb in Arghandab in southwest Afghanistan's Kandahar province, on the Pakistani border.

Dahl had deployed in July from Ft. Lewis, Wash., with the 1st Battalion, 17th Infantry Regiment, 5th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division. He was due home on leave in November.

His mother last saw him in March. She said he described harsh living conditions in Afghanistan -- tents pitched near stinking, open sewers. He attended Bible study regularly, she said, and filled his digital camera with photographs of villages and local people.

"He felt compassion for them," she said.

Dahl was born and raised in the small town of Beaumont in Riverside County. He was a shy child who played piano and spent hours in his room sketching buildings in minute detail.

He left Beaumont High School before graduating to work two jobs, as a clerk at a Calvin Klein outlet by day and a stock clerk at a Stater Bros. market by night.

He earned his diploma in 2003, according to military records.

He lived at home with his mother; his 16-year-old brother, A.J.; and a pit bull, Girl. Settling down with a family of his own would have to wait -- he told his mother he needed steady work and a house first.

Dahl started taking classes at Riverside Community College, and joined the Army National Guard in 2006 to help pay for school.

Once he learned he would be deploying to Iraq in 2007 as a cavalry scout, Dahl took an Arabic class. He would sit at his computer at home practicing Arabic late into the night, his mother said.

After he arrived in Baghdad, Dahl called home to describe how much he enjoyed working on reconstruction projects and playing with Iraqi boys in the streets.

"He said, 'Mom, if I had the opportunity to go home now, I wouldn't. It's not that bad,' " she quoted him as saying. "What he liked about it was they were helping to rebuild the city. They would just protect the people. He felt compassion for them."

Patricia Dahl, an accounting assistant for Riverside County, said that while her son was deployed, he gave her full access to his bank account and never asked to be repaid.

Talking about it now makes her cry. "He was just giving," she said.

During that deployment, she told him one of his cousins had been sent to juvenile hall. Dahl reached out to the boy, sending him a letter.

"I know it's hard to be away from home, but sometimes it's good," the soldier wrote. "Just try to make the best of it -- try to learn something new every day. We're both kind of in the same situation -- we both have to eat nasty food, we have someone telling us what to do, and we have to wear uniforms. But it won't last forever."

Dahl filled his laptop with all sorts of music: opera, country, R&B and oldies, his mother said. She said he spent one of his leaves in Qatar, talked about trying to get posted to Germany and was considering a career in the military.

"He was never satisfied -- he always had to move on and learn more," she said.

Fellow soldiers held a memorial for Dahl in southern Afghanistan on Oct. 22. Speakers included Spc. Peyton Cloninger, whom Dahl had asked weeks before to speak at his memorial in the event of his death.

"Michael was a caring guy that would do almost anything for anybody," Cloninger said, recalling their last trip to Las Vegas before they deployed and the way Dahl would offer rides to friends. "Not only was he a great friend, he was a good soldier."

The military had paid to fly Dahl's parents to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware two days after he died to see his remains arrive in the U.S. His casket was flown back to California, where a funeral was held Oct. 26 at Weaver Mortuary in Beaumont.

Dahl was buried the next day at Riverside National Cemetery. A candlelight memorial is planned at Beaumont Civic Center next month.

His mother said that Dahl would have been shocked to know the Beaumont mayor came to his funeral and that county supervisors issued a proclamation remembering him. "He was so shy, he wouldn't want any of this attention," she said.

Dahl's awards include the Purple Heart, Army Commendation Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal-CS, Global War on Terrorism Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Ribbon, Armed Forces Reserve Medal - Mobilized and the Combat Action Badge.

Army Spc. Michael A. Dahl Jr. was killed in action on 10/17/09.

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