Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Ultimate Sacrifice - Sgt. Darren Dhanoolal

Sgt. Darren Dhanoolal

Fort Benning soldier dies in Iraq
Killed while driving mine-clearing vehicle

Kynesha Dhanoolal had already begun the countdown to the day her husband, Sgt. Darren Dhanoolal, would be returning home from Iraq.

"He told me late April or early May at the latest," said Kynesha this morning. "We were going to visit his family in Trinidad as soon as he got back."

But Monday night those plans changed dramatically.

Sergeant Dhanoolal, a member of Fort Benning's 2nd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, was killed when the massive Buffalo vehicle he was driving was destroyed by a roadside bomb in Iraq.

He became the second member of the 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team to die in Iraq this year and the first since Jan. 7.

"It wasn't his time to go," said a tearful Kynesha Dhanoolal today. "He was so full of life. We were looking forward to starting a family when he got back."

Kynesha is staying at the home of her parents, Walter and Yvonne Watkins of Columbus.

The couple was married on Valentine's Day 2007, shortly before the 2-69 shipped off to Iraq

3rd Brigade soldier killed in Iraq
Sergeant was weeks from coming home when his vehicle hit a roadside bomb
Sgt. Darren Dhanoolal

When Yvonne Watkins of Columbus saw the two uniformed officers on her porch, one wearing a chaplain's cross, she knew why they were there.

But was it her son Walter, an Army specialist stationed in Afghanistan, who was dead or her son-in-law, Sgt. Darren Dhanoolal, who was due back from Iraq in three weeks?

She knew it was one of them.

"My first thought was that it was my son," said Watkins, whose husband is a retired Army staff sergeant. "But it turned out to be my daughter's husband. Either way, we're sick."

Dhanoolal, 26, is a native of Trinidad. He was killed Monday in Iraq when the vehicle he was driving, a heavily armored Buffalo, was destroyed by a roadside bomb. A combat engineer, he was assigned to Fort Benning's 2nd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment of the 3rd Brigade Heavy Combat Team.

Kynesha Dhanoolal, who celebrated their first wedding anniversary on Valentine's Day, had already begun making plans for her husband's redeployment. Awaiting his return, she had moved into Whisperwood Apartments in Columbus.

"He told me late April or early May at the latest," Kynesha said Wednesday. "We were going to visit his family in Trinidad as soon as he got back."

Kynesha had been trying to reach her husband all weekend, with no luck.

"Then on Monday morning at 4 a.m. I get a text message from him, telling me that they'd been on blackout, but that he was OK and that we'd talk soon," said Kynesha, 28. "Three hours after he texted me, he was dead."

The couple had met at what turned out to be their favorite hangout, Spices Caribbean Restaurant & Bar on University Avenue in Columbus.

"He asked me to marry him there on New Year's Eve 2006, and we were, at a small ceremony at my parents' Sweetwater Village home a few weeks later," she said. "We were going to have a bigger wedding when he got back."

One of the first people to console Kynesha was Sgt. Larry Parker, Darren Dhanoolal's roommate in Iraq.

"He told me that he noticed that Darren was wearing his wedding ring as he went out on what was his last mission," she said. "Darren never wore the ring when he went out on a mission. But he told Larry that for some reason he felt like wearing it that day."

Another call came from Spc. Johnny Perez, now back at Fort Benning recovering from wounds suffered last June.

"He was the best man at our wedding and he's pretty upset, too," said Kynesha, who works as a pharmacy tech at Winn Dixie on Macon Road in Columbus. "It's funny how things work out. Johnny and Darren's lieutenant, Sean Holland, were both at our wedding. A couple months later, Darren and Sean pulled Johnny out of a burning tank, saving his life."

Darren and Kynesha Dhanoolal were able to spend two weeks together in December.

"I took him to the airport on the day after Christmas," Kynesha said. "It was the last time I saw him."

Dhanoolal was the second 3rd Heavy Brigade Combat Team soldier to die in combat since last October, when three members of the 1st Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment were killed in Salman Pak, Iraq. He was the first fatality from the 2-69 since early September. Since the brigade was deployed in March 2007, it has lost 25 soldiers in combat, mostly in roadside bomb explosions.

Dhanoolal's body was to be returned to Dover Air Force Base, Del., late Wednesday.

But no funeral arrangements have been made.

"We're in contact now with Darren's mother in Texas," said Yvonne Watkins. "Either way we wanted to make sure he has a full military funeral. He was a great soldier and is deserving of that."

Kynesha, whose brother is flying home today from Afghanistan, doesn't know where she goes from here.

"He (Darren) was so full of life," she said. "We were looking forward to starting a family when he got back. Now..."

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