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David P. Senft dies at 27; Army staff sergeant from Grass Valley

For Army Staff Sgt. David P. Senft, the years at war had taken a toll.

The 27-year-old helicopter mechanic from Grass Valley, northeast of Sacramento, was reserved but tough. And with a love of flying and fast cars, his family said, he wanted to live life on the edge.

But in the summer of 2010, in the time leading up to his latest deployment to Afghanistan, he was different. He resisted a return to war. His family and friends said he was depressed, emotionally fragile and, at least once, had tried to kill himself.

Still, he deployed.

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While he was stationed at an air base in Kandahar, Senft was meeting regularly with a counselor and military chaplain, according to military emails that his father shared with The Times. Concerned about his mental state, the Army took away his personal weapon.

But those efforts weren’t enough. On the morning of Nov. 15, 2010, his body was found slumped behind the wheel of a sport utility vehicle near the base’s armory with a single gunshot wound to the head.

In his hand was a gun Senft had taken from his roommate. Beside his body, a cellphone displayed a text message with no time or date stamp: “I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO SAY, IM SORRY.”

He was assigned to the 5th Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment, 101st Combat Aviation Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) at Ft. Campbell, Ky.

Senft had served for six years with the 82nd Airborne Division, then transferred to the 101st, serving two years there before he died.

He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. His survivors include his wife, Pvt. Alyssa S. Senft, based at Ft. Lewis, Wash.; a son, Landon Ryan, 5, of Russellville, Ohio, from a previous relationship; and his parents, David H. Senft of Grass Valley and Lee A. Snyder of Riverbank, Calif.

Lynnette Hager, who served with Senft while on a tour in Iraq and is the mother of his young son, wrote a message on the soldier’s page on The Times’ California War Dead website:

“Our son will always know you. He will grow up with the knowledge that his father died serving his country despite the means by which you left. You will always be remembered; I see you everyday in our son’s face. I hope your life has found peace and I pray our son grows up to understand.”

David Paul Senft was born on July 4, 1983, in Hayward, southeast of San Francisco. (“He grew up thinking all the fireworks were for his birthday,” his father said.) He was reared mostly in the city of Tracy in the Central Valley, along with his older sister, Sandra, and younger brother, Andrew.

He was described by friends and family as unusually straightforward and stern for a kid. He was quiet, dependable, honest. He didn’t say much, but when he did speak, there was no mistaking what he felt.

“David’s personality was one of a kind,” Ana Ochoa, a close friend, said with a laugh. “He would call people out, and sometimes he would say something a little too direct.”

The elder Senft said his son never really got into trouble. That is, until he turned 16.

“Once he got his driver’s license, he loved to drive fast,” his father said.

The young man grew up around race cars, and his first car was a Chevrolet Camaro. He also loved to ride roller coasters, snowboard, rock climb and explore the outdoors. “He just liked anything that was on the edge,” his father said.

Ochoa said Senft was clean-cut and tidy — his apartment immaculate, his checkbook always balanced, his hair perfectly trimmed. But, as he grew older, tattoos started to cover his arms and his torso. “It was kind of like an outlet, after everything he’d seen and gone through,” she said.

Senft’s family moved around while he was in high school; he graduated in 2001 from Silver Springs High School in Grass Valley.

He was set to follow in the footsteps of his father and many others in his family by becoming an electrician. He took the local union’s apprenticeship exam and aced it. A letter came in the mail telling him that he would start in two weeks.

But he had changed his plans: He enlisted in the Army in March 2002 as a helicopter mechanic, with the hope of one day becoming a pilot.

Senft told his father that he had an urge to fly.

rick.rojas@latimes.com


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