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Spc. Benjamin Slaven, a reservist from Beatrice, Neb., was killed June 9 near Diwaniyah when a roadside bomb ripped through his convoy, killing him on the scene.

Spc. Benjamin Slaven, a reservist from Beatrice, Neb., was killed June 9 near Diwaniyah when a roadside bomb ripped through his convoy, killing him on the scene. (U.S. Army)

LOGISTICAL SUPPORT AREA ADDER, Iraq — To the men and women who worked with him, Spc. Benjamin Slaven was Superman.

And not only because the 22-year-old gunner had the Man of Steel’s logo tattooed on his well-muscled shoulder.

For the soldiers of the 7th Transportation Battalion, a unit attached to the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division of the Minnesota Army National Guard, Slaven was a faithful friend, a brave and dedicated colleague and, in the words of one of his closest friends, “the younger brother you never had.”

Slaven, a reservist from Beatrice, Neb., was killed June 9 near Diwaniyah when a roadside bomb ripped through his evening convoy, killing him on the scene.

He was posthumously promoted to specialist and awarded the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart and the Combat Action Badge.

A week after his death, soldiers from his unit, the 2nd Platoon, 308th Transportation Company, continued to grapple with his death, the first in the brigade’s three-month tenure in Iraq.

Emotions — grief, anger, disbelief — swirled viciously around like the recent dust storms that have plagued southern Iraq.

Soldiers who knew Slaven painted a picture of a young, determined soldier who always had a smile on his face, who collected pocket knives and liked scuba diving and motorcycles, who embellished his gym-toned body with tattoos and who worked ceaselessly towards his goal of one day becoming a drill sergeant.

“When I got the phone call, my first reaction when they told me was almost like getting punched in the chest. It was a tough thing,” said battalion commander Lt. Col. Allen Kiefer, blinking away tears. Slaven’s squad leader, Staff Sgt. Charles Johnson, said the squad will never be the same.

“We had 15 soldiers in our squad,” said Johnson, 29, who watched the bomb strike Slaven’s Humvee. “And every single one of them had a piece of him in their heart.”

He said he and Slaven planned to take leave together and, upon their return to the United States, embark on a motorcycle trip to the Vietnam War memorial.

“I will always have him with me, no matter what,” Johnson said. “He’ll always be here. I’ll keep remembering him for who he was and what he meant to me.”

Others remembered Slaven for his perseverance. Sgt. Jesse Toothman, 22, said Slaven once tried boxing for physical training.

“I kept telling him to put his hands up,” he said, chuckling. “And he got knocked out. He got up and wanted to do it again.”

Toothman said Slaven’s death touched a nerve.

“It makes me angry. What makes me angry is, this [stuff] is still going on out there,” said Toothman, on his third Iraqi tour.

“If anything, it’s gotten worse. This is my second time stationed in this area. When I was first here, there was a war going on, but it was never directed at you. Now, it’s directed at you.”

Slaven’s death is a particularly hard for soldiers like Spc. Shanna Rice, 28, who lived seven blocks from him in Beatrice, Neb.

The two, who met at the Nebraska State Fair last year, spent many evenings bowling, going to clubs in Lincoln and commiserating about his lack of a girlfriend.

Once, she said, as she was recovering from surgery, he visited her bedside, leaving a rose at the foot of her bed.

“I referred to him as my younger brother,” she said.

“Ben always told me, ‘Shanna, I’d take a bullet for you,’ ” she said, tears running down her cheeks. “I’d say, ‘Where did that come from?’ He’d say, ‘Because you have four kids to go home to, I have no one.’ ”

“He didn’t take a bullet for me. It was a [roadside bomb]. And he took it for us all.”

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