Fallen soldier hailed as brave, selfless by Baumholder friends
BAUMHOLDER, Germany — First Lt. Benjamin J. Colgan always stood out.
“Superhuman and fearless,” is how Lt. Col. Bill Rabena described Colgan, 30, of Kent, Wash. Rabena, battalion commander with the 1st Armored Division’s Giessen-based 2nd Battalion, 3rd Field Artillery Regiment, tried to define Colgan by his long list of achievements, but concluded that words “fall woefully short.”
“To me, Ben was the bravest, most decent and selfless man I’ve ever known,” Rabena wrote in Colgan’s eulogy, which was read Nov. 11, Veterans Day, at Colgan’s funeral in Aurora, Mo., his wife Jill’s hometown.
Colgan died Nov. 1 when a remote-control bomb was detonated while he led a mission to find the Iraqi who had fired a rocket-propelled grenade at a patrol.
Colgan had enlisted out of high school 12 years before, beginning a career that led him to enter the rarified, clandestine world of the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment–Delta as a Delta operator. In 2002, Colgan traded green for gold and became an officer.
In Colgan’s eulogy, Rabena ticked off the lieutenant’s accomplishments, including top awards for every way the Army has to measure soldiers — from the advanced noncommissioned officers course to sniper school.
Colgan stood out as a super soldier who was the son of lifelong anti-war activists. His father, Joe Colgan, told the King County Journal that his son emphasized the positive changes he saw in Iraq, but added in an e-mail two days before he died that the war was “getting old and it’s getting crazy.”
The family, including five sisters and two brothers, knew a modest man who believed deeply in what he did and who most valued family, friends and the outdoors, said Gina Johnson, his eldest sister. Colgan was a gifted, gregarious middle child, the star football player and outdoorsman “and he absolutely loved everything,” Johnson said in a phone interview from her parents’ home in Kent. His death sparked an outpouring of grief and condolences, “letters by the hundreds from people who do and don’t know him.”
His family knew he was in an elite unit, working in the most dangerous areas, but he never spoke of them, Johnson said. “There were so many of Ben’s accomplishments we didn’t even know about until we heard his commander’s eulogy,” she said.
One thing she does know is that her brother left Special Forces in hopes of having more time and money for his family. Lately, Colgan had decided he missed the close-knit special operations community and intended to go back, Johnson said.
Special Forces’ loss was the 1st AD’s gain, wrote his commander.
Colgan showed up in January at 2-3 FA headquarters in Friedberg wearing a Special Forces patch on his left shoulder.
“I knew we had someone very special when I first met Ben,” Rabena wrote in his eulogy.
When he got to Gunnerland, the 1st Brigade headquarters in the Al-Adhamiya section of Baghdad, Colgan “said, ‘Please don’t leave me in the [tactical operations center]. Use my Special Forces skills,’ ” Rabena wrote. “He gravitated to the toughest mission there was.”
“He led the survey platoon on more raids and captured more high-profile criminals, explosives and weapons than most battalions,” Rabena wrote.
On the day he died, Colgan did the reconnaissance and planning for a raid to capture a high-ranking Baathist who had been attacking neighboring U.S. bases. Soldiers captured the man just an hour before Colgan died.
In addition to his wife, Colgan is survived by two daughters, Grace, 2, and Paige, 1, and a child expected to be born next month.
Media reports have made much of the family discord over the war, Johnson said.
“The truth is … my dad and mom had the utmost respect for my brother. They knew Ben was giving his life to help others. Yes, their views on war are different than the rest of the family. They just wanted a peaceful solution [to the conflict with Saddam Hussein.]
“But Dad and Mom are so proud of him. I can’t stress that enough.”