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Officer killed in Afghanistan had ties to a Flight 3407 family

An Air Force lieutenant who died in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan on June 9 had Western New York ties, and also was a member of a family that's no stranger to grief.

Lt. Joel Gentz, of Grass Lake, Mich., died when his helicopter crashed while on a rescue mission in southern Afghanistan. Gentz, 25, was the son of Steven and Judy Gentz and the nephew of Cheryl Borner.

Borner's husband, David, died when Continental Flight 3407 crashed in Clarence in February 2009.

Steven Gentz is originally from North Tonawanda, and he has family in Newfane, Grand Island and Hamburg.

Borner described her nephew as a "natural leader," a triathlete who served as a role model for his younger cousins. She said Gentz turned down a job as a pilot so he could go into the Special Forces, with the hope of directly helping others.

"His mom and dad were both nurses, and he wanted to help," Borner said. "And that was the way, to rescue people."

Borner said Gentz was organizing a program to collect toys for Afghan children. She said the program will continue, and she hopes to someday involve the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station in the program.

It's those activities, Borner said, that are keeping the family together and helping them deal with their loss.

"All of those little things keep you going and keep you focused," she said. "The little things, participating with family, those little things are so important right now."

Borner said she is trying to support Gentz's family the best she can, especially after going through her own tragedy with Flight 3407.

Borner said T-shirts are currently being made with Gentz's para-rescue group motto on them -- a motto that characterizes Gentz's life of service: "These things we do, that others may live."

e-mail: cspecht@buffnews.com