Remembering the fallen

A tribute to troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan

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Benjamin Prange

Killed on July 24, 2014

The first Nebraska native to die serving in Afghanistan since 2012 was remembered Saturday as happy, upbeat and determined to serve his country.

Staff Sgt. Benjamin G. Prange, 30, of Hickman died Thursday of wounds suffered during an IED attack on his vehicle in Mirugol Kalay in Afghanistan’s Kandahar Province, according to the U.S. Defense Department.

Pfc. Keith M. Williams, 19, of Visalia, California, also died in the attack, the department said. Both soldiers were assigned to 1st Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division at Fort Carson, Colorado.

Prange joined the Army in January 2007. A relative said Prange joined in an effort to support his wife, Elizabeth, and two young sons, Corbin and Dillon.

“That’s one of the main reasons why he joined, was for financial stability for his kids,” said the relative, who agreed to an interview if he was not named.

Prange initially was turned away from serving because of a partially missing pectoral muscle, the relative said. Prange went through strength and endurance tests before finally being accepted into the Army.

Records from Fort Carson show this was Prange’s third deployment to Afghanistan. His first was from June 2008 to June 2009; his second was from March 2012 to November 2012; and the third began March 8 of this year.

He was expected to return home this fall.

“He had always come home safe, and it’s just heartbreaking,” the relative said.

Fort Carson officials issued this statement: “It is always hard to lose a part of our military family. Our thoughts and prayers are with Staff Sgt. Prange and (Pfc.) Williams’ family and friends during this very difficult time.”

In a statement, U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer, a Nebraska Republican, said, “My thoughts, prayers and deepest sympathies are with the family and loved ones of Staff Sgt. Prange during this difficult time. His ultimate sacrifice on behalf of his country is a solemn reminder to us all of the high price of freedom. I join all Nebraskans in honoring the memory of this brave American. We are forever indebted to Staff Sgt. Prange for his selfless service.”

Prange’s military awards include four Commendation Medals, an Achievement Medal, two Good Conduct Medals, a National Defense Service Medal, an Afghanistan Campaign Medal with three campaign stars, a Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, an Army Service Ribbon, an Overseas Service Ribbon, two NATO Medals and a Combat Infantryman Badge.

Prange and his wife were high school sweethearts who graduated from Norris High School in Firth. Saturday would have been the couple’s 11th wedding anniversary.

The Pranges previously were stationed in Texas. He arrived at Fort Carson in October 2011.

Roy Baker, who was superintendent of Norris Public Schools when Prange was in school, remembered Prange as “just a good, solid kid.”

Prange was raised by his grandparents, Kent and Carolyn Prange, who live in the Roca, Nebraska, area. Prange’s mother died in the late 1980s in an accident, the relative said.

“He loved his mother, and I know it hit him hard when she passed away. It hit everybody hard,” the relative said of Prange.

Prange’s father died about a year later.

Prange also is survived by an older brother in Denver and an older sister in St. Louis.

“He was just a great kid,” the relative said. “I mean, he was always happy.”

Before Prange, the most recent Nebraska soldier killed in Afghanistan was 21-year-old Hunter Hogan of York, who died on June 25, 2012.

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