Saturday, August 06, 2011

Army Sgt. Alexander J. Bennett

Remember Our Heroes

Army Sgt. Alexander J. Bennett, 24, of Tacoma, Wash.

Sgt Bennett was assigned to 7th Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment (General Support Aviation Battalion), U.S. Army Reserve, New Century, Kan.; died Aug. 6, 2011 in Wardak province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when the CH-47 Chinook helicopter in which he was riding was shot down.

24-year-old Spc. Alexander Bennett, a door gunner who recently moved to the area from Tacoma, Wash.,

US Army Specialist Alexander J. Bennett was killed in action on 6th August 2011 in Wardak province when his Chinook helicopter was shot down by enemy forces. He was serving with the 7th Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment.

24-year-old Specialist Bennett was a Chinook helicopter flight mechanic with the Army Reserve. He had previously served in Iraq in 2009. After returning home to Tacoma, Washington from Iraq, he moved to Kansas to join the unit based at New Century AirCenter.

Lt. Col. Richard Sherman, the former commander of Bravo Company, 7th Battalion, told local news that Bennett had a reputation as a prankster. “He was a typical young kid and liked to go out and have a good time with the guys,” Sherman said. “He never pranked me but then again at the time I was a major so specialists tend to not make majors their targets for pranks.”

Lt. Col. Richard Sherman, the former commander of Bravo Company, 7th Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment, based at the Gardner, Kan., airport, said he received confirmation of the deaths late Aug. 6.

He said Bennett, who he identified as being from Olathe, Kan., returned in 2009 from a deployment with a unit from the Tacoma area. He moved to Kansas because he wanted to deploy with the unit based there, Sherman said.

Kim Robertson can’t picture her son, Spc. Alexander Bennett, pursuing any other life than the one he made as a soldier on an Army helicopter crew.

“It was almost like he was born to take that path,” she said Monday.

Bennett, 24, died Saturday in Afghanistan doing the job his mother said he dreamed of while he grew up in Tacoma. He was killed with 29 other American service members and seven Afghan soldiers when Taliban fighters fired a rocket at their CH-47 Chinook helicopter.

The attack represented the single largest loss of life for American service members in any one incident in the Afghanistan War. It killed 22 members of the Navy’s elite SEAL Team 6 as they were dispatched to help Army Rangers in a firefight.

Bennett was assigned to the Army Reserve’s 7th Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment out of New Century Air Center southwest of Kansas City, Mo. At least two others from the battalion were killed, too.

Robertson knew her son was working with Special Forces, such as the SEALs. He was proud of his missions, she said, and shared some of his experiences with her.

“It was the best crew out with the best men,” she said.

Reports of the downed helicopter made international headlines almost immediately, but Robertson blocked them out until an Army casualty assistance officer knocked on her door.

On Monday, an American flag filled her downtown Tacoma window, and a wooden replica of a Chinook helicopter sat on a mantle in her living room. It was flanked by photos of Bennett.

She’s been comforted by an outpouring of affection from friends who knew her son at Foss and Curtis high schools in Tacoma and University Place.

“He brought laughter everywhere,” she said.

Army buddies remembered him much the same way – as a jokester who got a thrill out of playing pranks. In one, Bennett hid behind a corner and popped an unsuspecting officer with an air gun.

“Yeah, he got in a lot of trouble for that one,” said 1st Sgt. Kirk Kuykendall, 47, who knew Bennett at the Kansas aviation field. “You could say he got a lot of butt-chewing and extra detail.”

Bennett once stole a division flag from an active-duty Army unit.

And there was that epic battle, Kuykendall said, with the Marines over an extra large bench in Iraq.

“The Marines stole it from us, and Bennett stole it back, putting a lot of chains on it,” Kuykendall said. “Even the whole Marine unit couldn’t take it back.”

He laughed at the memory and quickly slipped into sadness.

“Alex really matured, and in Afghanistan, he became a mentor,” he said. “He wanted to serve another tour there, too.

“He was thriving … .”

In Tacoma, Bennett’s mother and grandmother revealed no regrets about his decision to serve overseas.

“He lived to the fullest, and he was always happy,” said grandmother Theresa Cali of Virginia. She was visiting Robertson as they prepared to recover his remains.

Robertson said her son joined the Army in 2006, starting with the National Guard. He moved to the Army Reserve that year and generally worked out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

The Army has not released its official death notification or Bennett’s service record.

Robertson said Bennett served in Iraq in 2009 and returned eager to move up in the Army. By then, he had served as an infantryman and a helicopter mechanic.

He was a Chinook crew chief during his last deployment and hoped to become a pilot when he finished his tour, Robertson said.

“If I had to go back and live through those choices, I don’t think I would’ve talked him out of it,” she said. “He was so happy. If I had talked him out of it, it would have been the wrong decision.

“There was nothing left unsaid, no regrets.”

Army Sgt. Alexander J. Bennett was killed in action on 8/6/11.

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