Airman 1st Class Austin H. Gates Benson, who was deployed to Afghanistan with the 54th Combat Communications Squadron, lost his life Monday in what the Department of Defense is calling a “non-combat related” incident.
Gates Benson was stationed at Robins Air Force Base. He was deployed to Khyber, Afghanistan, near the Pakistani border. He was 19 years old and a native of Hellertown, Pa., about 60 miles north of Philadelphia.
Gates Benson’s remains arrived at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware late Tuesday.
His mother, Joie Gates, said she last spoke to her son April 12. She recalled that her son was extremely enthusiastic about serving in Afghanistan.
“He spoke to several people about extending his tour for several months,” Gates said in a phone interview.
David Laboski, assistant principal at Saucon Valley High School in Hellertown, Pa., remembered Gates Benson as someone who “did his own thing,” but frequently confronted the school’s administration on student matters.
“Very intelligent,” Laboski said of Gates Benson.
“He always brought good arguments.”
In his high school yearbook, Gates Benson left these words, printed next to his photo: “Anybody can make history, it takes a great man to write it.”
Gates Benson appears to have been individually augmenting a ground unit in Afghanistan. The 54th Combat Communications Squadron has not been deployed to Afghanistan.
The unit is a subordinate element of the 5th Combat Communications Group, which did send a small team from its 51st Combat Communications Squadron to Afghanistan earlier this year.
The Robins public affairs office would not provide any additional details on the circumstances surrounding his death.
The base will hold a memorial ceremony for Gates Benson this afternoon at the Museum of Aviation, according to a Robins spokesman.
To contact writer Thomas L. Day, call 744-4489.