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First Sgt. Richard Howell remembers parts of a conversation before Staff Sgt. Michael Gabel left the rear detachment for the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team and headed downrange.

Gabel said something about the possibility of donating a portion of his $400,000 Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance policy to help the rear detachment pay for flowers at memorial services.

Gabel was serving as platoon sergeant for soldiers inprocessing into Vicenza before they were sent to Afghanistan.

“He was doing a great job in the job he was doing for me,” said Howell, the first sergeant for the brigade’s rear detachment in Vicenza. “You want to reward a guy like that for doing his job so well.

“I’ve never seen anyone wanting to go downrange as bad as he did,” Howell said.

So Gabel, instrumental in running new soldiers through grueling physical training to get them ready for their deployment, went to Afghanistan himself in September.

He died Dec. 12, along with Cpl. Joshua Charles Blaney, after their Humvee hit a roadside bomb near a U.S. forward operating base. Pfc. Brian Gorham would die a few weeks later from wounds he sustained in the attack.

Howell soon learned that Gabel had followed through with his thoughts. He donated 3 percent of the settlement to Howell and another 3 percent to Sgt. 1st Class Michael Arroyo, the rear detachment’s operations noncommissioned officer. The $24,000 was to be used for flowers and a party for the rear detachment at the end of the deployment.

Gabel, 30, wasn’t married. He is survived by his parents, Cathy and John III, and older brother, David. Born in Baton Rouge, La., he joined the Army in 2000. He served in Iraq and later in the brigade’s first rotation to Afghanistan before being assigned to the rear detachment for the beginning of the current rotation, expected to last through August.

Gabel’s duties put him into contact with a wide variety of Americans and Italians across the base, Howell said. Those ties were evident at the memorial service on Dec. 19, when dozens of people reached out to touch the helmet in front of his portrait in the base chapel.

Howell said it’s the first time in 22 years of service that he’s heard of a soldier donating a portion of his death benefits to support his home base.

The unit has since learned that it can pay for flowers at such services, and doesn’t need to ask for individual donations anymore. So Howell said he and Arroyo are working with Gabel’s family to determine a way for Gabel’s donation to be spent in a way he would wish.

“We’re trying to set it up so we can get something with a lot more longevity to it, so it’s not just this deployment,” Howell said.

“When a guy does something like that, you want to make it last.”

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.
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