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Just Like Any Other Day… Until It Wasn’t

Ashlee White, GFC Staff and church member, shares a personal story of why Memorial Day has such special meaning for her family.

The morning of June 9, 2010 was completely normal. It was a Wednesday, my husband Mark’s normal day off at that time. I was supposed to work an 11am to 8pm shift at my restaurant management job. We slept in a bit, then I headed to work. Mark had plans to hang out with a friend that day, so they had lunch, ran some errands, and he got a haircut.

It was a slow day at work, so during my dining room manager shift I stood at the bar and watched some sports highlights on one TV and CNN on another. The sound was off and the closed-captioning was on, so I was skimming the stories for items of interest. Then a headline caught my eye.

Chopper downed by hostile fire; 4 Americans killed

I read on.

Insurgents shot down an American medevac helicopter in southern Afghanistan today in a rare attack that killed four U.S. troops and increased the toll of one of the deadliest weeks for NATO forces since the war began in late 2001.

“How terrible,” I thought. The anchor continued.

The Air Force Black Hawk helicopter was shot down around noon in the Sangin district, in eastern Helmand province, U.S. and Afghan officials said.

“A rocket-propelled grenade appears to have downed the craft,” said Brigadier General Frederick B. Hodges, one of the top U.S. commanders in southern Afghanistan and who cited the findings of a preliminary investigation.

Hodges said NATO aircraft are routinely shot at, but generally without deadly effect because the Taliban appears to lack sophisticated surface-to-air missiles.

“It’s a big deal every time we lose someone,” he said, “but this is more of a jolt. The medevac crews are some of the bravest people in the world. Just by the nature of what they do, they’re always moving into danger.”

Three service members survived the crash, Hodges said.

The Taliban asserted responsibility for the attack in a statement that said insurgents fired at the aircraft as it was flying at a low altitude near the market in Sangin. 

About that time, one of my servers asked for change for a hundred dollar bill. I went about my day and duties as normal.

Around 5pm, my cell phone rang and it was Mark. I stepped into the manager’s office and answered. I could barely make out what he was saying. He was crying and was shaking so hard his voice was vibrating. “Ben was killed.” “What?” I asked, half thinking that I didn’t hear him right. “Ben was killed. His helicopter was shot down. He’s dead.”

The next few moments were a blur, as were the coming hours and days. Endless tears. Sleepless nights. Feelings of disbelief.

Ben was one of the four airmen killed in the NATO helicopter crash I saw on the news earlier in the day. 

He was flown home to Tri-Cities airport and we made the 3-hour drive from Blountville to Erwin. It took so long because the interstate, highways, bridges, overpasses, and streets were lined with proud Americans showing their gratitude for a fallen hero and their support to his grieving family. And as some of you may remember, his funeral was held at GFC.

Senior Airman Benjamin D. White was my husband Mark’s little brother. He was a Pararescue Jumper in the United States Air Force Special Operations Command and only six weeks into his first deployment. He was a combat diving, Army Airborne certified, free-fall jumping, survival trained, “Superman School” graduating, Dr. Pepper hoarding, pizza devouring, cologne wearing, heart-on-his-sleeve sweetheart of a guy. He was 24 years old and knew what he was doing was his calling. And if given the chance to come back and do it all again, he wouldn’t hesitate. After all, the PJ’s motto ends with these poignant and no truer words:

These things I do, that others may live.

But the most important thing to know about Ben is that he loved Jesus with all his heart. He knew Him personally as his savior and as he grew in his faith, he grew closer to Christ and closer to his friends and family. He prayed for their well-being and interceded on their behalf, as we are instructed to do in 1 Timothy 2:1. He was okay with dying because he was saved by that amazing grace.

This Memorial Day, have a great time with your family and friends. Cherish the time you have with them, because you’ll never get that time back. But I also encourage you to take the time to think about the families who are missing a loved one. One who was willing to die protecting our country, its people, and their freedom. And if you want to thank a local fallen hero, you are welcome to visit Benjamin’s grave at the Mountain Home National Cemetery (plot: section RR site 166).

Ashlee White

2 comments (Add your own)

1. Max Irick wrote:
My deepest sympathy to you and your family. There is nothing a person can say at a time like this that eases the pain...Except maybe that God is always in control and that you can rest easier knowing that he is with Jesus. God bless you.

Mon, May 29, 2017 @ 6:07 PM

2. Aggie Lyons wrote:
Beautiful. I did not know Ben, but my friends who did said he was an awesome young man.
We don't understand, but one day when we pass through the pearly gates, we will see our love ones again. Thank you Ben.

Mon, May 29, 2017 @ 10:40 PM

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