When the flag-draped casket of U.S. Army Capt. Benjamin A. Sklaver arrived at Dover Air Force Base Saturday, he was not only mourned by his parents and fiancée, but will be by thousands of people in Uganda who simply knew him as "Moses Ben," the man who brought them clean and sustainable drinking water.
Sklaver, a 32-year-old Hamden native, was killed in an ambush, possibly by a suicide bomber, while on patrol Friday in Muscheh, Afghanistan, near the Pakistan border.
Major Charlie Jaworski, a spokesman for the Army, declined comment on how Sklaver, who was in the 422nd Civil Affairs Battalion, 3rd Infantry Division, was killed. The Department of Defense had not officially released details of Sklaver's death by Sunday afternoon.
Gov. M. Jodi Rell ordered the state's flags to be flown at half staff until Sklaver's funeral.
In Hamden, Sklaver's father, Gary Sklaver, was awaiting the arrival of relatives and friends from across the world who are coming for his son's funeral. The funeral has tentatively been scheduled for Tuesday. He said his son was a "very bright and ethical man" and was preparing to marry Beth Segaloff in June.
"He certainly touched a lot of people with his work," Gary Sklaver said Sunday. "He was certainly special to us. 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."
Benjamin Sklaver, who has a brother and sister, was the director and founder of ClearWater Initiative, a New Haven-based nonprofit organization dedicated to providing clean water to populations affected by humanitarian emergencies. The projects were focused on conflict-affected areas of northern Uganda.
The company had brought clean drinking water in the form of wells to more than 6,500 people since 2007. The organization's goal was to "directly impact the lives of more than 10,000 people by 2012.
"It's a sad day for Hamden," said Hamden Mayor Craig Henrici, a family friend. "He's kind of like the all-American boy who grew up to be a hero and a humanitarian."
According to the ClearWater website, Sklaver served in the military's Combined Joint Task Force — Horn of Africa in 2006 and 2007, with a mission to mentor Ugandan military units. While in Uganda, he was struck by the high rates of child mortality linked to dirty drinking water. When he returned home, he began ClearWater, linking donors with Ugandan partners to bring clean water infrastructure projects in remote villages.
Gary Sklaver said his son's faith in Judaism was important to him.
"Our Jewish faith teaches us to do good deeds and do what we can to make the world a better place. This was a young man determined to make the world a better place," he said.
According to Gary Sklaver, his son expected to be home last May. But the "stop-loss" policy of keeping troops past their enlistment dates led to Sklaver's staying in Afghanistan until the end of his tour. Earlier this year, the Obama administration put an end to the policy.
"There are soldiers making great sacrifices for this country, but it's not making the front pages," Gary Sklaver said, noting he viewed the caskets of 10 bodies coming off the plane during the transfer ceremony at Dover. "There are still soldiers dying out there. And they deserve our respect."
While in the United States, Sklaver was an international emergency and refugee health analyst at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.
He relocated to Westchester County, N.Y., to take a job with the Federal Emergency Management Agency so he would be closer to his fiancée. He graduated from Hamden High School in 1995, was a graduate of Tufts University and had a master's degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy.