Benjamin T. Zieske – September 2006 Shipment Honoree
Pfc. Benjamin T. ZieskeSource: By Jason B. Johnson, San Francisco Chronicle
Benjamin Zieske was an outgoing kid with little use for rules or authority as a student at Olympic High School in Concord, CA. So principal Rinda Bartley was stunned by the straight-arrow soldier who visited the school a few months ago while on leave from Iraq.
“He was wearing his fatigues. He looked very sharp,” Bartley said of Zieske, who graduated in 2003. “He was very happy. He had a strong sense of mission and was very proud of what he was doing there.”
Army Pfc. Benjamin T. Zieske, 20, was killed Wednesday in an improvised explosive device blast as his unit patrolled Kirkuk on foot, Army officials said Monday.
A small wreath with a black sash reading “Beloved Son” hung on the front porch of the family’s home Monday. Laurie Zieske recalled her son as a “fireball” whose lively Gemini personality and smile — his nickname was “Squints” because his smile was so broad — could light up a room.
“When everybody was kind of down and depressed, he was trying to get everybody up. He had tons of energy,” she said. “He was just a little fireball. There’s nothing I wouldn’t give just to have another moment with him.”
He was an infantryman in the 101st Airborne Division assigned to Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team. He enlisted in March 2005, arrived at Fort Campbell in July and was deployed to Iraq.
During his short career, Zieske received the National Defense Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Combat Infantryman Badge and Oversees Service Ribbon.
The Army transformed a cocky boy who seemed to be going nowhere into a confident young man with a clear future, said those who knew him.
“He was a student who struggled in school. School wasn’t easy for him,” Bartley recalled, a smile spreading across her face. “He had very strong ideas about things and the way things should be. He was very articulate, very intelligent, and following the rules was not on the top list of his priorities.”
But the Army seemed to give Zieske’s life structure and clear instructions for the way things should be.
“He’d dropped a lot of weight, put on a lot of muscle,” she said. “The kids were intrigued and a little disturbed. They hear so much about the war and here he was living it.”
Some students asked Zieske if he was afraid in Iraq.
No, he said, he wasn’t.
“I think that surprised the kids,” said Bartley.
From the Office of the Governor of California
Governor Schwarzenegger Issues Statement on Death of Concord Soldier: Pfc. Benjamin Zieske
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger today released the following statement regarding the death of Pfc. Benjamin Zieske of Concord:
“Pfc. Zieske’s courageous service reminds us of the dangers the men and women of our armed forces face daily. Maria and I join all Californians in offering our deepest sympathies to Benjamin’s family and friends for their loss. As we honor his memory we must also keep all of our brave servicemen and women in our thoughts and prayers.”
Zieske, 20, died May 3, 2006 of injuries sustained when an improvised explosive device detonated during a dismounted combat patrol in Kiruk, Iraq. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, Fort Campbell, KY.
In honor of Pfc. Zieske, Capitol flags will be flown at half-staff.
“Zieske was probably one of the best guys I knew. He was always there, dependable, and he could always take a joke. But my favorite thing about “Z” was that he was always smiling and joking with you. No one could keep him from laughing for long.”
-SPC James Drebelbis
“Benjamin Zieske, we had some really good times together. You always found a way to make a real bad day good. You came to Iraq in high spirits, and kept the Scouts morale high, too. You keep looking down on us and I’ll keep looking up when I need you. I love you, man.”
-PFC Scott Laube
“PFC Zieske was one of the Soldiers who sought nothing but self-improvement. His motivation and perseverance was to be envied by all. As his team leader, I was in charge of his training. His battlefield knowledge improved every day to the extent of him training his fellow Soldiers on the things he knew. There was no greater feeling than when ‘Z Man’ was giving a class on the operation of our team’s equipment. ‘Z’ was an exemplary Soldier and a role model to us all.”
SGT Gustavo Gutierrez, Team Leader
“PFC Zieske was one of the best Soldiers I ever had. His attitude and willingness to work was infectious. He was the life of our platoon. If you were having a bad day, all you had to do was go talk to ‘the Z Man,’ and you would instantly feel better. We all loved him and miss him tremendously. We pray for his family and friends and wish them the best. May God ease their pain.”
SSG James Auttonberry, Squad Leader
The members of Landstuhl Hospital Care Project were honored to remember Benjamin during the month of September 2006 with our shipments to the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, and U.S. military hospitals in Iraq and Afghanistan. Our thoughts and prayers remain with Benjamin’s family and friends today and in the years to come.