June 18, 2007 (by SSgt. LuCelia Ball) - Like many Iraqi families, a traditional Air National Guardsman and F-16 pilot grew up in a farming family. He balanced his love of the farm and working as a commercial airline pilot with his love of the Air Force.
Lt.Col. Kevin Sonnenberg seen after a mission in this 2005 file photo from the Ohio ANG's 112th FS.
Lt.Col. Kevin Sonnenberg, assigned to the 112th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, died June 15 when his F-16 crashed shortly after takeoff. He had just departed on a mission to provide air support to coalition ground forces fighting anti-Iraq forces.
"When I first met him, he had a very business-like demeanor, almost gruff," said Lt. Col. Scott Reed, 112th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron commander. "He seemed to be very gruff. Later, I learned that it was all an act and he was actually a very gentle person."
His opinion changed the first time the major, a fellow Air National Guardsman known as "Sonny" to his co-workers at the 180th Fighter Wing in Toledo, Ohio, attended a group dinner and brought his father along.
"That dinner was the telling point," he said. "After I got to observe him interact with his father, I realized I had it all wrong. He so respected and honored his father and he just struck me as a family man."
The colonel concluded that the major was simply a consummate professional, relaxing only among his family members. As an Airman, he struck his boss as being a very reliable person with a strong work ethic.
"I think it goes back to his background as a farmer," the colonel said. "He was willing to put everything aside until the job was done and done well."
The colonel recalled a trip last year to Alaska. After completing weeks of strenuous duty, the group was finally scheduled for a long weekend. Lt.Col. Sonnenberg pulled the assignment of weekend mission commander - at the same time his wife [then- fiancé] was scheduled to arrive for a visit. The duty meant twice as many hours of work.
"I remember that I offered to take the job so he could spend some time with her, but he insisted on staying and finishing the job," the colonel said. "I don't know anyone else who gets a chance to go home early and refuses to take it, but that's just the way he was. He grew up working sunup to sunset and that's how he approached all of his responsibilities."
For the colonel, those American values are what he will miss most about the major.
"He believed in God, family and country, and he lived and died by those values," he said. "There are literally only 24 hours in a day, and he sacrificed the most important thing anyone can - his time - to get the job done. 'Sonny' was the best of what we are."
The major will soon return home to his family and his Ohio fields so his family can pay their final respects. The group of Airmen he left behind will not soon forget him.