By Staff Sgt. Mike R. Smith, Guard Times Staff
QUEENS — Army National Guard Sgt. Joseph O. Behnke left behind many things when he departed his Brooklyn home for Iraq last year.
He had his family. He had his friends. He was a carpenter and engineer for the Department of Veterans’ Affairs and ran his own construction business.
Behnke was also volunteering his knowledge and time building a community club at his Jamaica Armory.
He had an excellent start to the project, having installed a restroom before his regiment, New York’s 1st Battalion, 258th Field Artillery Regiment, was activated for Operation Iraqi Freedom.
He will never return to finish the community club effort.
Sergeant Behnke was killed in Baghdad on Dec. 4, 2004, when his military vehicle struck a barrier and overturned.
Still, he is responsible for its recent opening.
“After [Sergeant Behnek’s] death, Soldiers of the 258th decided to complete his vision,” Lt. Col. Trevor L. Jackson, battalion commander, said.
A formal ceremony was held at the Jamaica Armory on June 25 to dedicate the completed Sergeant Joseph O. Behnke Community Club.
The ceremony included a ribbon cutting with the Behnke family and benedictions by NYARNG Chaplain, Capt. James B. Collins. Guest speakers were Behnke’s platoon sergeant, Master Sgt. Edwin L. Garris, New York State Command Sgt. Maj. RobertVanPelt and Jackson.
Jackson and Sgt. 1st Class Philip R. Giordano coordinated the construction project. The room required extensive work. Volunteers had to run electrical lines, install lighting, install and repair walls, install countertops, tile floors, design seating, paint, and hang memorabilia from the Battalion.
“The majority of the carpentry was done by Spc. Leonardo Cannella,” Jackson said. “Other significant help was provided by the New York Guard and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.”
Following the ribbon cutting, visitors filled the community club to see the transformation.
Just inside its double-door entrance, to the right, a framed photo of Behnke put a face to the room’s name. A little further in, additional photos, news clippings, and memorabilia honored Behnke’s life and service. Surrounding white walls held company guidons, banners, and various memorabilia. New overhead lighting — small glass shades — hung from cables anchored to the room’s 12-foot ceilings. Several circular standing-eight tables filled the room, and hardwood floors were restored and stained a dark brown.
Jackson said the community club would remind visitors of Behnke and denote the unit’s history as well as serve as a community meeting place for all groups housed in the armory.
“The Soldiers and the Behnke family embrace the community club and believe it is a fitting tribute,” Jackson said.