ORFORDVILLE, Wis. (AP) — A decorated 21-year-old Wisconsin soldier killed in Afghanistan felt a strong need to serve in the military, his former school superintendent said Thursday.
Spc. Benjamin H. Neal, of Orfordville, died Wednesday in Kandahar province after enemy forces attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device, the Department of Defense said. Neal was an 82nd Airborne Division paratrooper based at Fort Bragg, N.C., and was on his second deployment to Afghanistan.
Neal graduated from Parkview Senior High School in Orfordville in 2009 and soon after joined the U.S. Army.
“Ben was a very good, good person. Wonderful personality,” Parkview School District Administrator Steve Lutzke said. He said Neal had “strong faith” — both a religious faith and faith in the United States’ future.
“He just felt a need to serve and he felt this was something he could do to help our country and help the world,” Lutzke said.
Lutzke, who was Parkview principal when Neal graduated, remembers him as the team leader when Neal wrestled in high school.
“He took his wrestling very seriously,” Lutzke said.
The school district has 950 students in kindergarten through 12th grade. Grief counselors were on standby at school Thursday, Lutzke said.
“As you can expect, this is a huge loss for our school district and our community. He still has family members in our school,” Lutzke said.
Neal served as an infantryman with the 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg. His awards include the NATO Medal, the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, the Amy Commendation Medal and the Afghanistan Campaign Medal with Campaign Stars.
“Ben was a true paratrooper in every sense of the word,” Lt. Col. Ced Carrington, the 1st Battalion commander, said in a statement. “His loss will be sorely felt by his fellow paratroopers and the entire 1st Battalion family.”
Command Sgt. Maj. Francis Debois remembered Neal as “always wanting to learn more and lead from the front. He lost his life fighting for what he believed in and alongside his buddies. He is a true professional.”