By Bruce Schreiner
The Associated Press
LOUISVILLE - A Kentucky Army National Guard officer killed in Iraq during an ambush on his military convoy was remembered Monday as a leader who set an example for fellow soldiers.
First Lt. Robert Henderson II was killed Saturday near Diwaniyah in southern Iraq, the state Department of Military Affairs said.
The convoy was supporting the Army's 1st Armored Division when it was attacked by insurgents about 70 miles south of Baghdad, said Lt. Col. Phil Miller, a National Guard public affairs officer in Frankfort.
First Lt. Robert L. Henderson with the Kentucky National Guard was killed April 17 when the convoy he was travelling in was attacked near Diwaniyak, Iraq.
"It's our understanding the convoy came under small-arms attack by enemy forces," Miller said.
Henderson, 33, of Alvaton, is survived by his wife, Lisa, who is pregnant with their first child, according to family friends. His mother, Lillian, said her son had been in the Guard since he was 17.
"He loved it," she said in a statement from the Department of Military Affairs. "He always wanted to do what was right. He was the best."
Henderson was a platoon leader in the Owensboro-based Detachment 1, 2123rd Transportation Company. The unit hauls tanks and other heavy armored vehicles, artillery equipment and engineering equipment.
Warren County Judge-Executive Mike Buchanon, a friend of the family, said high-ranking Guard officials told him that Henderson displayed "strong leadership" during the attack. The convoy was ambushed as it slowed down to go around an overturned trailer, Buchanon said.
"He was shot twice and continued to lead his platoon through the ambush to safety," Buchanon said.
He said Henderson was taken to a field hospital, where he died.
Henderson was the second Kentucky Guard casualty in the Iraq conflict.
Sgt. Darrin Potter, a member of the 223rd Military Company in Louisville, died in September when his military vehicle overturned and was submerged in a canal in Baghdad.
A comrade remembered Henderson as "a good man and a good soldier."
"He definitely set the example when it comes to what the soldiers should be aspiring to be," said Kentucky National Guard 1st Sgt. Michael Oliver, who formerly served in the same unit with Henderson.
Oliver said Henderson was a hands-on officer.
"He loved driving the trucks," Oliver said. "Normally, as an officer you sit back, supervise and direct. Lieutenant Henderson loved ... to get right in there and ask that driver to scoot over and let him have the opportunity to actually drive the vehicle."
Oliver, of Bowling Green, was transferred to the 2113th Transportation Company, based in Paducah, after his promotion to first sergeant. That happened 10 days before his former comrades were activated.
"Right now there's a tremendous sense of guilt that I carry with me because I'm not there with them," Oliver said, his voiced choked with emotion. "They are a great bunch of soldiers."
The 2123rd deployed to southwest Asia in January.
In Frankfort, Gov. Ernie Fletcher said Henderson "paid the ultimate sacrifice while serving his country."
"Our commonwealth has truly lost one of its finest," he said.
Kentucky Adjutant General Donald C. Storm said he was "deeply saddened" by Henderson's death, but said "our resolve is not shaken."
"He was a true patriot who answered the call of his nation," Storm said. "Our hearts, thoughts, prayers and support go out to his family."
Henderson graduated from Warren Central High School in 1989 and attended Western Kentucky University from 1990 to 1994, Miller said.
Henderson worked as a sales manager at the Lowes home improvement store in Bowling Green for several years. Robert Castle, operations manager at the store, said Henderson was well liked.
"He was the type of person when he was faced with a challenge, his eyes would light up and he'd get this look on his face and you just knew it was going be taken care of," Castle said.
Buchanon watched Henderson grow up. Henderson's mother is a bookkeeper at a floral and greenhouse business run by Buchanon's wife.
"He was dedicated to the National Guard and to the military service," Buchanon said.
Henderson's comrades held a memorial service on Sunday at the unit's base camp in Kuwait.
Kentucky currently has 365 Guardsmen deployed in Iraq, Storm said. He said they have been "in the eye of the storm."
"They're not on the peripheral here," he said. "These soldiers are part of the front lines. And as you know ... the front line in this war is 360 degrees."
Funeral arrangements for Henderson are pending.
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