Former Atlanta resident, humanitarian killed in Afghanistan

Benjamin Sklaver, 32, an Army reservist who had worked at the CDC, was on patrol Friday in Muscheh, Afghanistan, when his unit was ambushed, possibly by a suicide bomber. An Army spokesman declined comment to the Hartford Courant on how Sklaver was killed since the Department of Defense had not officially released details Sunday afternoon.

Sklaver was killed one day before eight American soldiers were killed in a fierce gun battle with insurgents near the Pakistan border, the deadliest assault against U.S. forces in more than a year.

Sklaver was a captain in the 422nd Civil Affairs Battalion, 2nd Infantry Division, serving his second tour of duty.

The Hamden, Conn., native was engaged to be married.

"He couldn't wait to get back -- that's mostly what he talked about," said his friend and Atlanta neighbor, Jake Herrle. "They were talking about a June wedding."

Sklaver lived in Atlanta for several years after graduating from Tufts University, working in emergency health and refugee relief at the CDC. Late last year he moved to New York for a job with the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

After spending 2007 building water infrastructure in Africa with the reserves, Sklaver returned to Atlanta energized to do more. He started a nonprofit group called the ClearWater Initiative (clearwaterinitiative.org) that has provided clean drinking water to more than 6,500 people in conflict-ridden areas.

"He was so affected by how much you could do with so little money, he was like, ‘Why don't we start something?'" Herrle recalled. "It started real grassroots with friends and family, and he built it up."

In a letter posted on the company's Web site, a Ugandan village thanked the man they called "Moses Ben" for delivering a clean water supply.

"ClearWater Initiative will continue," said Sklaver's father, Gary. In lieu of flowers, the family is asking that donations be sent to the organization Sklaver founded.

In Sklaver's home state of Connecticut, Gov. Jodi Rell ordered state flags at half staff.

"It's a sad day for Hamden," Hamden Mayor Craig Henrici told the Courant. "He's kind of like the all-American boy who grew up to be a hero and a humanitarian."

At Tufts, Sklaver earned a master's degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and enrolled in the Reserve Officer Training Corps. He was supposed to fulfill his reserves commitment in May, but it was extended for another year. He was  deployed to Afghanistan in April.

Judaism was a big influence on Sklaver, his father said.

"Judaism teaches us to repair the world, and that's one thing he was attempting to do," Gary Sklaver said. "It also teaches us that good deeds are what define a person, not what they say but what they do, and that's a precept he followed very strongly.

"The fact he could help a thousand villagers in Uganda with a limited amount of money ... that's what really defined him."

Americans can honor his son by supporting the troops, Gary Sklaver added.

"We do have an all-volunteer army," he said. "These are soldiers who did not have to go into battle. There are fallen heroes coming home every day and they don't make the front page."

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