Orfordville solider remembered as hard-working leader
Rock County Board member Brian Knudson talks about fallen soldier Benjamin Neal. The Orfordville soldier was killed in the Kandahar region of Afghanistan when an improvised explosive device hit his unit. Knudson gave a tribute to Neal as the invocation for Thursday's Rock County Board meeting.
JANESVILLE You read about this kind of thing all the time, but it doesn’t hit home until it happens to a family you love and respect, said the neighbor of a rural Orfordville man who died Wednesday in Afghanistan.
It’s hitting home for the Orfordville community this week, Rock County Board member Brian Knudson said.
Spc. Benjamin Neal, 21, died Wednesday in Kandahar province after enemy forces attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device, according to a statement from the U.S. Department of Defense.
Neal was the son of Don and Trish Neal, who run a dairy farm in Spring Valley Township in western Rock County. Neal was on his second tour in Afghanistan, Knudson said.
“You read about it in the paper all the time,” Knudson told The Gazette late Thursday. “I guess until reality sets in and, for a family that you like and respect so much, something terrible like this happens … ”
Knudson, a Rock County supervisor, read a statement during the invocation before the county board meeting Thursday night. Neal was a hardworking man who loved the land, his country and his family, Knudson said.
“I wish I had even an ounce of the courage and backbone of my neighbor Ben Neal,” Knudson said.
Neal was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C.
He graduated in 2009 from Parkview High School, where he was an honors student, according to Gazette records. He was a member of the Plymouth 4-H Club.
Neal wrestled for four years in high school and was a natural leader, said Parkview High School wrestling coach Joel Steinman.
“He’s always been a leader and dedicated in what he was doing,” Steinman said. “He was one heck of a wrestler, a four-time sectional qualifier.
“When he talked, kids listened. They respected him.”
Steinman said he was Neal’s coach in high school and his friend after Neal graduated. Steinman is a Gulf War veteran, and the two had a lot in common, he said.
Parkview Superintendent Steve Lutzke said Neal “just felt a need to serve” and went into the military after graduating.
Lutzke remembers Neal for his “wonderful personality” and his strong faith.
Neal knew the commitment he was making to serve overseas, Steinman said.
“He was a great young man, a smart young man,” Steinman said. “If you truly want to name a hero, that’s Ben. He did die for what he believed in, for us.”