Saturday, June 02, 2007

Benjamin Ashley remembered

When he was 5, Benjamin Ashley told his parents he wanted to grow up and be GI Joe.

Ashley got to live his childhood dream.

On Thursday, he died doing so.

Ashley, 22, of Independence, was killed in Iraq when a bomb exploded near the vehicle he was driving in Balad. His death was a somber milestone — he was the 100th soldier from Fort Riley killed in four years of war.

But the significance of that was not mentioned Friday, on the eve of Memorial Day weekend, as family members gathered in his sister’s yard in Independence.

“Ben” wasn’t the 100th to them.

He was just their one.

“I’m so proud of Ben,” said his father, Ken Ashley. “He volunteered. He knew what he was doing.”

Donna Ashley said her son felt that the Army was his calling.

“He is our hero,” she said. “He was a fantastic child, and we’re going to miss him. We’re going to miss him a lot.”

While family members told stories about Ashley, including how they sent him baseballs and Double Stuf Oreos to remind him of home, the fallen soldier’s 2-year-old-son, Alex, peeked through the front porch railing. Ashley’s widow, Kassandra, with tears on her cheeks, said the toddler would pull the family together.

Benjamin Ashley, a tactical data systems specialist, joined the Army in March 2004 and began serving with the 1st Infantry Division in September 2005. His unit deployed in September to Iraq.

“He told me that if something happened over there, he wanted me to be proud of him, and I am,” Kassandra Ashley said of her husband.

Ashley was the second soldier from the Kansas City area to be killed this week in Iraq. Army Sgt. Shannon V. Weaver, 28, of Urich, Mo., died with two other soldiers Monday in Baghdad when multiple improvised explosive devices blew up near their vehicle.

Ashley was a 2002 graduate of Truman High School, where he was a band member for four years. He played the baritone saxophone.

The death of his former student saddened Todd Reinhardt, band director at Truman.

“It hits close to home when it is someone you know,” he said.

Ashley was assigned to 1st Battalion, 5th Field Artillery, 1st Brigade, 1st Infantry Division.

More than 6,000 soldiers from Fort Riley are deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, with several thousand slated to go later this year for 15 months. Many are making their second or third trips to Iraq.

From the Kansas City Star

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