Green Beret from Pittsburgh area dies in North Carolina

February 11, 1981 / Dec. 10, 2012

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Maj. Benjamin Follansbee, 31, an O'Hara native and Green Beret who served multiple tours of duty, has died in North Carolina, his family and Army officials said.

The Department of Defense has yet to release details of his death.

Army Staff Sgt. Matt Leary said Maj. Follansbee died Monday in Fayetteville, N.C. No further details about the circumstances of Maj. Follansbee's death were available.

His father, William, a cardiologist at UPMC, said his son joined the Green Berets after he returned from a tour in Iraq about seven years ago.

He called his son unassuming, humble to the point of reticence, a man who might divulge to you that he was in the Army if you played a round of golf with him.

He would not tell you of his four tours in Afghanistan or the fact that he had trained to jump out of an airplane 20,000 feet above the earth and land in a war zone.

Gloating was not the way of the Green Beret, which he joined after a deployment in Iraq where he was nearly killed by an IED.

"You come back and say, 'We did our job, mission accomplished' and then you walked away. And that's the way you lived," his father said.

Maj. Follansbee was raised by Dr. Follansbee and his mother, Susan, in a tight-knit family that regularly attended Fox Chapel Presbyterian Church.

Emy Boag, a neighbor and family friend who watched him grow up, said she believes some of his affinity for the military was rooted in his obsession with history.

"Ben was very interested in history ... and the role of military and the defense of values in a culture, in a civilization," she said.

Maj. Follansbee attended Shady Side Academy, where, his father said, he was a "solid" but average student. He ran cross country, Mrs. Boag said, a sport that matched his fierce sense of individualism. Even as a teenager, he had a sense of integrity beyond his years.

"He ran against himself," she said. "He didn't need to have people praise him ... he had his own standards for what was important and against which he measured himself."

One summer before he graduated high school, he spent a summer at Culver Military Academy, an elite preparatory school in rural Indiana, where he earned his pilot's license and graduated the top cadet. Upon graduation from Shady Side Academy, he received an appointment to the U.S. Air Force Academy, but was disqualified because he had received allergy shots, his father said.

Undeterred, he went to the University of Delaware because it had an Air Force ROTC unit. But he found the training "too casual," his father said, and decided to join the Army. He graduated with a bachelor's of science in history and went to officer training school.

From there, he went to Army Ranger school, an intensive training school that prepares soldiers for the elite unit. He told his father of the rigors of the training, which allowed trainees a mere two hours of sleep a night and two meals a day. Of the 500 who started the program, only about 120 remained at the end of the three months. Maj. Follansbee was among them.

He was deployed to Baghdad in 2005, where he was the only lieutenant in his company to survive the year, Dr. Follansbee said. He was wounded when the Bradley Fighting Vehicle he was riding in was struck by an improvised explosive device.

When he returned home, he entered the Special Forces Assessment Course to become a member of the Green Berets. Again, he survived the rigors of the training, training that's meant to "break you down," his father said.

He also completed training in high-altitude, low-opening jumps, learning to leap from airplanes 20,000 feet in the air and parachute down, strapped with gear.

Overseas, he remained a bookworm, consuming the classics and history books. While deployed in Iraq, he asked his father to send him a book by French political philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville.

He was deployed to Afghanistan four times and was a commander in southern Afghanistan during the surge. There, his paths crossed with Gen. David Petraeus, who toured the region in 2011.

He earned two Bronze Stars, a Joint Service Achievement Medal, an Army Achievement Medal, an Army Service Medal and a NATO medal.

He recently had been promoted to major, his father said, a fact he did not learn until he was notified of his death.

"That's the ethic that they live by. They're the silent warrior," he said. "They are unsung heroes because their code of honor is they quietly do their job with great heroism and courage and they quietly walk away."

And his legacy will endure another way: Maj. Follansbee's twin sister Kate Junger gave birth to her second son Wednesday in Cincinnati, naming the boy Holden Benjamin for the uncle he will never know.

Maj. Follansbee also is survived by a brother, Chris, of Pittsburgh. Funeral arrangements are pending.


Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated where Maj. Follansbee died. (Published Dec. 14, 2012) mobilehome - breaking - neigh_north

Moriah Balingit: mbalingit@post-gazette.com, 412-263-2533.


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