KimVanek, Benton Gatch (pilot), Mandy Anderson

Written by Mandy Anderson

On December 21, 2007, the ladies in the Family Readiness Group (FRG) of 1st Battalion, 87th Infantry, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division received the news they dread hearing every time the phone rings. A soldier in their husbands’ battalion had paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Private First Class George Howell died when his vehicle was struck by an IED upon returning to the forward operating base from a mission. 1-87 is currently serving a 15-month tour in northern Iraq, and the unit has produced great success since their deployment in September. But, as is often the case, that success has come at a huge price. PFC Howell leaves behind a wife, two children and a baby on the way. It is for his family that the men of 1-87 and the FRG strongly desired to have representatives attend the funeral for their fallen hero at Arlington National Cemetery.

1-87’s Battalion Commander, Lieutenant Colonel Chris Vanek, could think of no better person to represent him and show his immense respect for one of his best soldiers than his wife and ultimate source of support, Kim. PFC Howell’s Delta Company Commander, Captain Jon Anderson, felt the same about his wife, Mandy. Since continuing the mission in Iraq called these men to duty, Veterans Airlift Command and its volunteers made it possible for their wives to represent them at PFC Howell’s funeral.

Benton Gatch, a Vietnam vet and corporate pilot employed by S&S Management out of Baltimore, graciously volunteered his time for two whole days to fly Kim and Mandy from their homes in South Georgia to Arlington, and safely home again. His generosity and that of the company he represents cannot be overestimated in the minds and hearts of the 1-87 family. It was so important that representatives were present at PFC Howell’s service and that his survivors had as much support on that day as possible.

The 1-87 family will be forever grateful to Mr. Gatch and everyone at Veterans Airlift Command. These Americans are true patriots and are indeed serving their country with honor and integrity. Being a military family is, at times, not an easy job. But these honorable people have provided peace of mind by ensuring that no family needs to worry about transportation when their soldier needs them. The Veterans Airlift Command network will answer that call every time.