Sgt. Major Wilfred Green was watching the news Monday night when he saw an image that literally took his breath away. The face on the television screen looking back at him was U.S. Coast Guard Damage Controlman 3rd Class Nathan B. Bruckenthal.
"I saw his picture come up and all I heard was he was the first Coast Guardsman killed overseas since Vietnam," Green said. "I said to my wife that young man was in my class."
Bruckenthal, 24, was a 1997 graduate of Herndon High, where he participated in track and field, and the Naval Junior ROTC. He was killed April 24, when a small boat near the Iraqi Khawr Al Amaya Oil Terminal that he and six others were attempting to board exploded. Two U.S. Navy sailors were also killed, while three Naval personnel and one Coast Guardsman were injured.
GREEN REMEMBERS Bruckenthal as the class motivator.
"Nathan was always a happy-go-lucky young man," Green said. "He was the motivator. He would always come in and cheer the kids up, always gave a laugh."
Bruckenthal had visited his old high school at least twice since joining the Coast Guard. Whenever he visited, he asked to talk to the current NJROTC cadets.
"He came back to school in his uniform. He wanted to show me he hadn't given up what he learned and to talk to the kids," Green said. "He said to them when he was in school he didn't give 100 percent. He wanted to encourage them to give 100 percent, to know it's their future."
Bruckenthal had told Green he decided to join the Coast Guard because he wanted to do something with his life. He also wanted to support and defend his country.
"He told me the only way he was getting out of the Coast Guard was if they threw him out. He enjoyed what he was doing and wanted to make it his career," Green said.
ACCORDING to a release issued by the Coast Guard, Bruckenthal was assigned to the Law Enforcement Detachment 403 from Tactical Law Enforcement Team (TACLET) South in Miami and was deployed with the Coast Guard Patrol Forces Southwest Asia at the time of the incident. The seven military personnel were on a rigid hull inflatable boat preparing to board a boat that came near the terminal when it exploded in an apparent suicide bombing.
"I am extremely saddened by the loss of Petty Officer Nathan Bruckenthal who was killed by terrorists Saturday while bravely serving his country in Iraq," stated Vice Adm. James D. Hull, Coast Guard Atlantic Area Commander, in the release. "I sincerely hope that his family and friends can find a little comfort knowing that he died a hero."
He is the Coast Guard's first combat-related death since the Vietnam War.
Bruckenthal had joined the Coast Guard in January 1999 and had been assigned to TACLET South since September 2002, said Petty Officer Stacy Pardini, with the Coast Guard's press office. This was his second tour of duty in Iraq, having previously been deployed there from February to May 2003. He returned to Iraq in February.
CMDR. RICHARD CASSARA said he believes Bruckenthal is the first graduate of Herndon's NJROTC program to be killed in combat. There are at least three recent graduates of Herndon's program serving in Iraqi, but Cassara said there could be more. He said the school's current group of cadets, while too young to have known Bruckenthal, are all too aware of the dangers.
"They know we have Herndon family in harm's way. This brings it close to home. They know he sat in the same classroom, just like them," Cassara said. "I was in the military for 16 years before someone was shooting at me. Here's kids right out of high school being shot at. Some go their whole career without facing combat."
Green said Bruckenthal should be remembered as someone who was "a dedicated, motivated young man that really wanted to serve his country because he really enjoyed what he was doing. He loved the Coast Guard."
Pardini said Bruckenthal, who lived in Miami, leaves behind a wife, who is three-months pregnant.
Herndon High had a moment of silence Tuesday to remember Bruckenthal, who also attended Herndon Elementary and Herndon Middle schools.