Air Force Airman 1st Class Austin H. Gates Benson
Died May 03, 2010 serving during Operation Enduring Freedom
19, of Hellertown, Pa.; assigned to the 54th Combat Communications Squadron, Robins Air Force Base, Ga.; died May 3 near Khyber, Afghanistan, of injuries sustained from a non-combat-related incident.
(The following was taken from blog.lehighvalleylive.com of May 4, 2010) Joie Gates' bags sat on the living room floor of her Hellertown home this afternoon as she waited for U.S. Air Force airmen to pick her up and drive her to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.
Gates' son, Austin H. Gates Benson, 19, an airman first class, died in Afghanistan Monday from injuries suffered during a noncombat incident, according to the Department of Defense. Air Force officials said no further details were available.
His casket arrives tonight in Dover, Gates said.
"Every child is a loss, and I can't say mine is a greater loss than anyone else's," Gates said, "but I never expected it. He will be sorely missed."
Gates Benson graduated from Saucon Valley High School in June 2008 and left for basic training a month later. He was assigned to a combat communications unit, Gates said, in the Khyber Pass at a place called Torkham along the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
It was his first tour of duty, Gates said, and he volunteered for the assignment.
"He was really proud to serve his country," Gates said.
Three airmen arrived at her home Monday, Gates said, and were directed to the car dealership where she works in Flemington. She said watching the men come in through the door was every bit as awful and heart wrenching as it is depicted in movies.
"They aren't there to tell you how great they think your son is," Gates said.
Former Saucon Valley High School principal Todd Gombos said Gates Benson was an independent thinker, an advocate for others and just a good kid.
"He was the kind of man who was going to do things," Gombos said. "He was going to make his own path in life."
Gates last spoke to her son in late April and he told her that he felt humbled by his interactions with Afghans, many of whom live in abject poverty.
"He said, 'Mom, I will come back and always be grateful for everything we have because these people have nothing,'" she said.
Gates said arrangements are being made with a Hellertown funeral home to hold a memorial service, but details were not finalized.