Monday, May 28, 2007

Benjamin J. Ashley dies of 'wounds suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle'

Since the age of 5, Benjamin Ashley wanted to be in the army.

"He would say, 'I want to be a G.I. Joe. I want drive a tank. I want to run the bad guys over," his grieving mother, Donna Ashley, said Friday afternoon.

Ashley, 22, realized that goal when he enlisted in the U.S. Army. He was killed Thursday in Balad, Iraq when a vehicle he was driving struck an improvised explosive device, a spokesman at Fort Riley, Kan., said Friday.

Ashley began serving in the 1st Infantry Division in September 2005. He was a field artillery tactical data systems specialist assigned to the 1st Battalion, 5th Artillery Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division. This was his first deployment, according to a Fort Riley statement.

Ashley leaves behind a widow, Kassandra, a 2-year old son, Alex, his parents, Donna and Ken, and sister, Kristin, among other family and friends.

His father, Ken, said he was proud of his son.

"He was a hero. That's how I thought of him, and that is how I still think of him," he said. "He understood what he was doing."

Kassandra and Benjamin met while she was tutoring the math class her grandmother taught. They were married in 2003, and their son was born in 2005.

"It is going to be hard," Kassandra said, while being tightly held by her mother, Lynne Hicks. "It is hard to think about doing this (raising a child) alone."

Ashley had been home several weeks ago before returning to Iraq, Kassandra said. He was scheduled to return home in August.

Donna Ashley said they had always been in contact with him throughout his deployment. His family would send him baseballs and baseball bats and treats from home.

"He called a lot," she said. "He had friends, and they would call themselves 'the three stooges of Iraq.'" she said. "When we talked to him, we never pressed him for details because a lot of things were classified."

When asked what his son's interests were, Ken Ashley immediately replied, "music."

"He loved music," he said. "He loved Toby Keith."

Ashley was also a musician. At Truman High School, Ashley was known as "Benjamin Saxophone" from the band jacket he would always wear, said his band teacher, Todd Reinhardt. Ashley played the baritone saxophone and participated in concert, jazz and marching band at the school, where he graduated in 2002, Reinhardt said.

"He eventually made it to the highest band ensemble," he said. "He really worked hard to do that."

Reinhardt described Ashley as a kid who always would want to help out.

"He was a great kid," Reinhardt said. "He would help us unload if we needed the help."

One of Reinhardt's favorite memories of Ashley took place shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"We got to march at Arrowhead Stadium," Reinhardt said. "The week before games were canceled because of 9/11, and for the first game they needed a band for halftime. I just remember him being so excited. He was a Chiefs fan."

While in high school, Ashley had an interest in joining the military to help pay for college, he said.

Meara Mitchell, another band instructor at the school, said Ashley would come back after he finished school.

"He would always come in and see how we were doing," Mitchell said.

Ashley's family wants their son and all other armed service men and women to be remembered for the bravery.

"He died a hero," Ken Ashley said. "They are all heroes day after day."

From the Examiner