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Dear Mrs. Beckett,
Please accept my deepest sympathy on the loss of your husband, Private Samuel J. Beckett, who had recently volunteered to serve his country as an American Soldier, and who was a good man to all who knew him. This tragedy has taken this fine young man from his family and his friends. Words cannot and will not describe to you how sorry I am about this tremendous loss and how much Sam’s death has and will continue to impact those of us still serving.
As you know, Sam had recently arrived here in Bravo Company, 52d Infantry Battalion from Advanced Individual Training at Fort Benning, Georgia. Sam was extremely proud to now be wearing his black beret and eager to join his new unit and family, the Bravo Company Bulldogs. He had settled into his brand-new barracks room, sharing it with PFC Darren Compton and preparing for the unit’s first big training exercise at the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, Louisiana. As Sam probably told you, the unit was training hard in preparation for this exercise. The First Infantry Division conducts three Warfighter exercises each year in order to stay finely honed for combat and this was the first for Sam. As a member of the second squad of the 3d platoon, he was setting the example for others as a fine rifleman and Soldier.
On Monday, December 13, 2005, the Soldiers of B Company awakened early for an esprit de corps physical training run. Sam proudly carried the guidon for his platoon that morning, leading the other 35 Soldiers on a five-mile run through Fort Riley. After breakfast, the company boarded buses for the ride to Range 31 to qualify with their individual weapons one last time before the trip to Fort Polk. Sam was in the third firing order at the seventh firing point, and his roommate PFC Compton was next to him. The Soldiers fired their familiarization rounds and then cleared their weapons in preparation for qualification. As the Soldiers left their firing positions and moved downrange to check their targets, another Soldier’s weapon accidentally fell to the ground and discharged. The bullet struck Sam in the head, killing him instantly. The other Soldiers, his battle buddies, rushed to his side. A combat medic, trained in life-saving techniques, was there on the range in an ambulance. Although he tried extensively to revive Sam, he was unable to. A medical evacuation helicopter from the post hospital was on site within fifteen minutes and transported Sam to Irwin Army Community Hospital where the doctors declared him deceased.
At this time, the incident is under investigation to determine how this tragic accident occurred and how to prevent a recurrence. Once the investigation has been completed, I will ensure that you have an opportunity to be briefed on the results of the investigation.
I think it is important that you know how much Sam loved the Army and what he was doing. Although he was only in our unit for a short time, he already stood out as one of my most motivated and promising young Soldiers. He was always first to volunteer for missions, kept his uniform and boots immaculate, and never missed a formation or a work call.
He was an extremely promising Soldier, well-liked by all others in the platoon and the company. I have a very clear memory of Sam carrying the platoon guidon that last morning as the companies passed in review before me and my battalion staff. I remember how proud he was and how tall he marched carrying the Bulldog 3 flag. Sam was an American Soldier and an Infantryman doing the job that he signed on to do. I am proud to have been associated with this outstanding American.
I cannot begin to imagine the impact that this loss wíll have on you, his family. I don’t know how much peace this will bring you, but I know that the Soldiers with whom Sam served have a great deal of respect and love for him. We had a memorial service at 10:00 AM today, where we remembered Sam and his fighting spirit. The comments made by those who served closely with Sam were spoken from the heart with a great deal of emotion. I think that Corporal Freeman, his squad leader, best summarized Sam’s service when he said, “I am going to miss the sharpest, most motivated Soldier in my squad, the one who always yelled ‘Yes, Corporal’ the loudest, the one who I could always count on to get things done. But most of all, I’ll miss the potential he had and all he could have been.”
Following the formal service, as bagpipes played “Amazing Grace” in the background, each Soldier in turn rendered a solemn salute to an M16, laden with a set of Sam's identification tags (dog tags) that had been secured between a pair of his boots, and placed on a pedestal in front of us.
Please know that the unit is treating Sam’s personal effects with the utmost care and will forward them to you, as the person eligible to receive his effects, very soon. We will include in those personal effects the guidon that Sam carried the morning of his death.
It is very important to me that you know two things. First, Sam loved what he was doing. Second, Sam loved the Soldiers with whom he served; and they loved him. I wish you and your family the very best as you deal with this unthinkable tragedy. If there is anything I can do to help ease your pain during this time, I welcome that opportunity. Please know that you are, and always will be, part of the 52d Battalion, 1st Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, the “Big Red One”.
With deepest sympathy,