U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael A. Benson, a Winona, Minnesota native and husband of eight years to Elizabeth Brown of Colchester, Vermont, was a career soldier assigned to the 1st Battalion, 314th Regiment located at Fort Drum, New York and was serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom as a member of the 2nd Brigade 78th Division, a support unit that trains reserve component soldiers.
He enlisted in 1985 after graduating from Winona Senior High School. During his two decades in the U.S. Army, he was awarded at least 23 medals, awards, or decorations in recognition of his outstanding military service. Throughout his military career, he was stationed in Hawaii, North Carolina, New York and Italy. He also served in the first Gulf War, Operation Desert Storm, where he helped clear minefields in northern Iraq. He saw time in many other hotspots, and in some places he was not allowed to reveal. He worked his way up from ammunition bearer to squad leader to recruiter to trainer. He was in Iraq assigned to train Iraqi police and security forces. He was in his final year of service.
He did not have to go to Iraq, but he wanted to.
He was always a soldier, a teacher and a student. He was described by some who served with him as a person who never looked for a fight, but never backed down from one.
He was known for his wonderful sense of humor and positive attitude. He sometimes claimed that his middle initial “A” stood for “Airborne.” He often used his quick wit to loosen up tense situations. He loved fast cars and spicy foods, and rooted passionately for Dale Earnhardt, Jr., the Minnesota Vikings, and the Minnesota Twins. He had a deep belief in God and country.
He was also my cousin.
On August 2, 2005, Sgt. Benson was riding in a gunner’s turret in Baghdad when a suicide bomber driving a car that was carrying an improvised explosive device attacked his three-vehicle convoy, resulting in his sustaining severe head wounds. Sgt. Benson was initially transferred from Iraq to a hospital in Germany where he was awarded a Purple Heart, and, while he did not immediately perish from his injuries, he died in a military hospital in Maryland on August 10, 2005. He died on American soil.
He was 40 years old. His real middle name was Allen.
A lot of people miss him.
I am lucky to have known Mike. A cousin and friend. Remember, today, tomorrow and always.