By Sgt. Breanne Pye
1st Brigade Combat Team Public Affairs Office, 4th Infantry Division
Dan and Michelle Benavidez plan to walk 1,000 miles, starting from Manhart Field and finishing at the Middle East Conflicts Memorial Wall in Marseilles, Ill., where their son’s name is permanently etched in stone.
The parents of Staff Sgt. Kenneth Mayne, a 4th Infantry Division Soldier who was killed in 2008 during a deployment in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, are marching to raise awareness of challenges facing military Soldiers and their Families.
“It was my husband’s idea to visit the wall and see our son’s name memorialized there,” said Michelle Benavidez. “But instead of just flying out to see it, he wanted to honor his son’s life by walking there and raising support and awareness along the way for the service and sacrifice of America’s fallen warriors and their Families.”
The “Iron Knights” Soldiers of 1st Battalion, 67th Armor Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 4th Inf. Div., will accompany the Benavidez Family following a ceremony at Manhart Field April 13 at 1 p.m.
Joined by 4th Inf. Div. and Fort Carson leaders, the Soldiers will march beside Dan and Michelle Benavidez for the ceremonial first mile of their 1,000-mile march, passing the Fallen Soldiers Memorial near Gate 1, a tribute in the post’s memorial grove.
“It means the world to me to see how much support we have received from Fort Carson and the Soldiers,” said Michelle Benavidez.
Before beginning their journey, the Benavidez Family will have lunch with Maj. Gen. Joseph Anderson, commanding general, 4th Inf. Div. and Fort Carson, and meet with Iron Knights Soldiers who served with their son in Iraq.
“It means the world that we get a chance to meet more of the Soldiers who served with our son, and hear their stories, and fill in a few more holes in (our son’s) life,” Michelle Benavidez said.
A squad leader with 1st Platoon, Company B, 1st Bn., 67th Armor Reg., then stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, Mayne died of injuries sustained when an improvised explosive device detonated during a security patrol in eastern Baghdad, Sept. 4, 2008.
The Benavidez Family remains in close contact with Mayne’s former Soldiers and leaders from that deployment, including Capt. Geoffrey Shraga, who currently serves as plans officer for 1st Bn., 67th Armor Reg.
Shraga said that Mayne, who led the junior lieutenant’s first patrol as a platoon leader in Iraq, was a calm and collected leader, who was able to keep his cool regardless of the circumstances.
“All my best leaders at the time were associated with Mayne,” said Shraga. “He was the kind of leader that people looked up to and learned from.”
Speaking with the troops who served at their son’s side has helped Dan and Michelle Benavidez gain a better understanding of what he accomplished in his life, his service to the nation, and, ultimately, his sacrifice.
“When he was a kid, Kenny was a little on the troubled side; he hung out with the wrong crowd and was just headed in the wrong direction,” Michelle Benavidez said. “His father and I talked him into joining the military, where we watched him grow into a solid young man.”
Michelle Benavidez said she remembers her son growing up and has a million stories of who that child was; but when she interacts with his former Soldiers and leaders, she gets to know a side of him that she never had the chance to see in person.
“I wish I had gotten more involved with the military side of his life when he was still alive,” she said, “but after he died, my husband and I did get involved. We reached out to the Soldiers who served with our son and started building a support system.”
The Benavidez Family has made it a mission to play an active role in its community of Arvada, raising awareness of the struggles military Families and friends face when they lose a loved one.
“Now, Soldiers who served with our son have since gotten out of the Army and moved to our hometown to be a part of that support system,” said Michelle Benavidez.
Shraga noted this as well, saying he was surprised at the strength of the Benavidez Family and how much Dan and Michelle Benavidez mean to the Soldiers who shared their grief at their son’s passing.
“Michelle is the strongest woman I know,” said Shraga. “After (Mayne) was killed in action, I wrote her a letter, explaining to her exactly what happened on her son’s final patrol. I was expecting anger and blame, but what I got was compassion and understanding — and a support system of my own.”
Dan and Michelle Benavidez plan to hold a final rally at the end of their 1,000-mile journey in honor of their son and for all the servicemembers, Family, friends and loved ones who have sacrificed and those who continue to give on behalf of their nation.
“What I really hope is that Kenny is looking down on us all and everything we are trying to do to raise awareness and support for other military Families and friends who are struggling,” said Michelle Benavidez. “And I hope he’s proud of what he sees; I hope he’s proud of his mom and dad.”