Friday, April 20, 2007

Robert J. Basham dies of 'injuries from a non-combat incident'

A Wisconsin National Guard soldier mobilized in 2005 who volunteered to stay in the Middle East after his first tour of duty ended has died in a non-combat incident in Qatar, authorities announced Wednesday.

Staff Sgt. Robert J. Basham, 22, of Kenosha died Saturday at Camp As Sayliyah in Doha, Qatar.

Basham was a member of Headquarters Battery of the Wisconsin National Guard 1st Battalion, 126th Field Artillery. He was mobilized in 2005 for a year of overseas service in Kuwait with the 2nd Battalion, 128th Infantry. Soldiers from several units, including the 126th, were deployed to fill out the 2nd Battalion, 128th when it was called to duty two years ago.

When his unit returned home in November, Basham volunteered for another tour of duty, joining a Kansas National Guard unit whose mission was in Iraq.

Basham's family declined to comment Wednesday.

Details of Basham's death were not released.

Basham's battery commander, Capt. Paul Denton, remembered Basham as someone who loved being a soldier. Even though Basham was young, Denton said he showed leadership qualities that led commanders to give him more responsibilities.

While his unit handled security for Camp Virginia in Kuwait, Basham was placed in charge of a team and then promoted to squad leader.

"Sgt. Basham came to the unit very young, very green. He was always full of energy," Denton said in a telephone interview Wednesday night. "He always wanted to perform his job to the best of his ability. He had these piercing blue eyes that could look right through you - not in a mean way but in a warm way."

After attending field artillery school in Fort Sill, Okla., Basham became a forward observer in the 126th Field Artillery, where he helped direct fire when the battery was firing its large guns. When the unit was preparing to return home, Basham talked to Denton and said he wanted to remain in the Middle East.

"He absolutely loved his job, he loved getting down in the dirt. When it came time for us to go home, he said, 'Listen, I'm single, I have nothing to go back home for, I love being a soldier, I want to stay,' " said Denton.

Basham stayed in e-mail contact with soldiers from his Wisconsin National Guard unit while he was in Iraq. Denton didn't know where Basham was stationed, but he said the Kenosha soldier was performing guard and patrol duties in Iraq.

Wisconsin's adjutant general, Maj. Gen. Albert Wilkening, ordered flags to fly at half staff at Wisconsin National Guard armories, air bases and other facilities until sunset of the day of Basham's funeral.

"Staff Sergeant Basham was always known for the commitment he had to his military service, and volunteering to serve beyond his original tour of duty demonstrated the part of his character that made him a valued member of the Wisconsin National Guard," Wilkening said in a statement.

"While no words can soothe the pain of their loss, I pledge to the Basham family the full support of the Wisconsin National Guard during the difficult days and weeks ahead."

From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel