Friends and family of an Army reservist killed last week in Afghanistan gathered Tuesday morning in a small town in Connecticut to remember the extraordinary efforts of a man who transcended his duty as a soldier to provide a bare necessity of life to people living half a world away.
Capt. Benjamin Sklaver, 32, of Hamden, Conn., died Friday in southeastern Afghanistan when his unit was ambushed by a homicide bomber, cutting short his dream of providing clean water to 250,000 needy people within 10 years.
In 2007, after returning home from the Horn of Africa, where he was struck by high rates of child mortality linked to dirty drinking water, Sklaver founded ClearWater Initiative, an organization based in New Haven that sought to provide potable water in underdeveloped villages. Sklaver's impact on daily life in Uganda is evident in a letter posted on the organization's Web site that referred to him as "Moses Ben."
"Long live clear water initiative," read the 2008 letter by Martin, chairman of the Ugandan village of Apookeni. "Long live Moses Ben."
According to its Web site, clearwaterinitiative.org, the nonprofit has constructed wells for more than 6,500 people since 2007, primarily in northern Uganda, where ClearWater Initiative is registered as a local non-governmental organization.
ClearWater was truly a family affair, as both of Sklaver's parents, Laura and Gary Sklaver, served on its all-volunteer staff, following their son's footsteps in his mission to link donors with Ugandan partners to provide the most basic necessity of life.
Mourners will celebrate Sklaver's contributions at home and abroad Tuesday at a funeral service in Hamden. Sklaver is reportedly the first Hamden native to be killed in war since Vietnam.
Laura Sklaver told the New Haven Register her son was so inspired by his impact as a Army reservist in Africa — building wells for as little as $1,000 — that he wanted to continue that assistance as soon as he returned stateside.
"That's what he loved to do," Laura Sklaver told the paper from Dover Air Force Base, where she and her husband awaited the return of her Sklaver's remains.
Laura Sklaver told the New Haven Register her son was a captain in the 422nd Civil Affairs Battalion, 3rd Infantry Division, during his second tour of duty.
"He had a special interest in humanitarian work, and especially clean water projects," Laura Sklaver told the paper. "While he was in Uganda, he believed so strongly in what they were doing that he wanted to continue the work they were doing and they started a small nonprofit."
While in Afghanistan, Sklaver said her son's unit also built infrastructure that gave villagers the ability to resist insurgents.
"If the same infrastructure is offered to them by Al Qaeda, they will have the wherewithal to say no," she told the New Haven Register. "Villagers could return to their old village if they had clean water there."
Sklaver was such a standout at Hamden High School in Connecticut that its former principal, Vincent Iezzi, kept track of the "very accomplished student" following his graduation in 1995.
"Ben was in the top 5 percent of his class," Iezzi told wtnh.com. "He was in the National Honor Society and he was a swimmer, a very good swimmer on the boys' swim team. So he was a very accomplished student, very well liked by everyone."
Sklaver's humanitarian work in Africa won him the distinguished alumni award from the Hamden Education Foundation in 2006, Iezzi said.
"He was a patriot and he worked to better the community that not only he lived in, but also in foreign lands," Iezzi continued. "You can't ask for anything more than that so absolutely, he is one that everyone should look up to and admire."
Sklaver went onto graduate from Tufts University in 1999 and later earned a Master of Arts degree in Law and Diplomacy from the Fletcher School at Tufts in 2003.
Sklaver's relatives declined to comment when reached by FOXNews.com, but his father told the Hartford Courant that he "touched a lot of people" with his work.
"He was certainly special to us," Gary Sklaver told the paper. "Every soldier over there is a hero. And everyone over there has someone back home who grieves for them. All soldiers' families are worried and all of us have to pray for those who are still over there."
Christopher Licari, a partner in the law firm of Licari, Walsh & Sklaver, where Benjamin's father is also a partner, said Sklaver was an inspiring man who helped others without seeking fanfare.
"One of the more remarkable things about Ben was you found out how good he was from others," Licari told FOXNews.com. "He wasn't the type of person who needed to call attention to that. He was just sort of quietly impressive."
Licari said Sklaver loved being "hand's on, really making a difference" with ClearWater Initiative.
Licari continued, "He was the kind of person that even if you met for just a minute, you'd say, 'Hey, what I am I doing to make this world a better place?"
Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell ordered the state's flags lowered on Sunday and Monday to honor Sklaver.
"Our state and country have lost a brave soldier and a family has lost a brave son who made the ultimate sacrifice to protect our freedom," Governor Rell said. "As Americans, we must never take the liberty we enjoy for granted."
At Rell's direction, flags will remain at half staff until Sklaver has been interred.
Sklaver is survived by his father, Gary, mother, Laura, brother, Samuel, and sister, Anna. He was engaged to Beth Segaloff, daughter of a law partner of Laura Sklaver's. They had planned to marry in June.
Wayne Hall, a spokesman for the Army, said Sklaver's remains were transferred to Dover Air Force Base at about 8 p.m. on Saturday.
"Our hearts go out to the family," Hall said.
Sklaver was at least the 16th U.S. soldier killed in Afghanistan since late last week, including eight U.S. soldiers on Saturday in the deadliest assault against U.S. forces in more than a year.
Pfc. Alan H. Newton Jr., 26, of Asheboro, N.C., died in the same homicide bombing attack that killed Sklaver. A day earlier, Spc. Russell S. Hercules Jr., 22, of Murfreesboro, Tenn., died in Wardak province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when insurgents attacked his unit using small arms fire, the Department of Defense said.
Two more U.S. soldiers were killed in Wardak province, Afghanistan, on Friday when an Afghan policeman on patrol with the troops opened fire on them and fled. The Department of Defense has identified those soldiers as Sgt. Aaron M. Smith, 25, of Manhattan, Kan, and Pfc. Brandon A. Owens, 21, of Memphis, Tenn.
Sgt. Ryan Adams, 26, of Rhinelander, Wisc., died on Friday of wounds he suffered when insurgents attacked his vehicle using rocket-propelled grenade fire, the Department of Defense announced.
Staff Sgt. Thomas D. Rabjohn, 39, of Litchfield Park, Ariz., died on Saturday in Wardak province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated during an attempt to disarm it, the Defense of Department announced on Sunday.
The Department of Defense also announced the deaths of two U.S. soldiers on Saturday. Sgt. Roberto D. Sanchez, 24 of Satellite Beach, Fla., died Thursday in Kandahar province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when enemy forces attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device.