NEWS

Ben Bitner remembered with dedication at Letterkenny

PAT FRIDGEN, Echo Pilot
Ben Bitner’s parents, Bev and Roger Bitner, prepare to unveil a plaque dedicating new equipment at Letterkenny Army Depot to him. They are assisted by Master Sergeant Joseph Schall and Colonel Victor S. Hagan.

A Route Clearance Vehicle Positioner dedicated in honor of Greencastle native Master Sgt. Benjamin F. Bitner should make turnaround on safety equipment quicker at Letterkenny Army Depot. The construction or conversion of RCVs is expected to be faster with the modern machine, hence they will be back in the field sooner to protect America's soldiers.

During a ceremony Oct. 10 at Letterkenny, military personnel and friends named the new piece of equipment the "Bitner Positioner" for the man fallen by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan on April 23, 2011.  

The machine is a vehicle manipulator, which can be rotated 360 degrees as welders work on RCVs. The two stations orient the vehicle hull so laborers can work from comfortable positions, rather than overhead or vertically.

"It makes the weld stronger, faster and easier to do," said Gary Rosenberry, chief RCV division/director of industrial operations. The targeted vehicles were used to find mines and IEDs.

"The RCVs are the first in, last out, detect mines and clear the field," he continued.

His crew of welders and production line supervisors attended the ceremony, and demonstrated how the positioner turned a vehicle shell.

Col. Victor Hagan, Letterkenny Commanding Officer, said the Bitner Positioner "will be used to build and modify the route clearance vehicles that are designed to protect our soldiers from the same IEDs that tragically took the life of Master Sergeant Bitner. The Positioner will also allow the route clearance vehicle workforce to substantially reduce process cycle times and return equipment into the hands of our soldiers serving abroad."  

In honor

Bitner's parents, Roger and Bev Bitner, were present, along with his aunts and uncles, Ron and Barbara Nicarry, and John and Jean Ocker. Greencastle representatives also attended, including borough manager Kenneth Womack, assistant manager Susan Armstrong, mayor Robert Eblerly, and school district superintendent Gregory Hoover.

A friend from Fort Bragg, N.C., made the trip to honor his former leader. Sgt. First Class Julius Kitching, 3rd Special Forces Group, Airborne, met Bitner in 2007.

"I was immediately aware of the energy and focus Ben lived every day. He mentored me."

They were assigned to Afghanistan in 2011.

"We knew it was one of the most violent places on the planet," he said. "Ben was the glue to our team in Charlie Company. When he died, I became team sergeant. I knew what to do because of his example. Men knew what to do when he was gone. We honor him now by our deeds."

Franklin County Commissioner Bob Thomas expressed gratitude for Bitner’s service, and asked where that dedication came from. He attributed it to a family of service, with their history at the Rescue Hose Company.

"It is difficult to see a family still struggling," he said. "We're proud of Ben and his family."

Ben Thomas Jr., who watched Bitner grow up, reflected on his life. The boy had confidence and determination early on, and joined the Army before his 1991 graduation from Greencastle-Antrim High School.

"He stood his ground for peace and freedom. He became a man's man."

Hagan summarized the ceremony, which included the unveiling of a plaque on the Bitner Positioner.

"Master Sgt. Binter will forever be a part of Letterkenny. We pay respect to a fallen comrade."

Benjamin Franklin Bitner was born July 4, 1973, and is also survived by his wife April, and sons Gunnar and Rogue.