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Reports: Vet from Ronkonkoma shot, killed on Texas Army base

Heather Dickinson and her husband Specialist Ryan Dickinson

Heather Dickinson and her husband Specialist Ryan Dickinson at MacArthur Airport after his arrival to Long Island after 15 months in Iraq. (March 15, 2009) Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan

A retired Army sergeant from Ronkonkoma who helped clear roadside bombs in Iraq was shot to death on a Texas Army base early Sunday after an altercation with another soldier at a barbecue, his sister said Tuesday night.

Ryan Dickinson, 26, a 2005 graduate of Connetquot High School, was shot to death at a home on the Fort Hood Army base after he got into a verbal dispute with a soldier stationed there, said his sister, Kate Dickinson, 30, of Farmingville.

"I'm in shock," she said Tuesday night. "It's very unfair that someone can survive war and come home and be shot. You expect to get the phone call from over there, not at a Labor Day barbecue."

Army officials at Fort Hood would not comment on the specifics of the altercation or confirm Dickinson as the victim. They did say Sgt. Brett M. Wessel, 26, had been arrested in connection with a fatal shooting. Kate Dickinson confirmed her brother was the shooting victim. Several published reports said military officials had named Wessel as the shooter.

A statement from the base's public affairs office said military police arrested Wessel, a combat engineer, on the Army base Sunday. No charges had been filed against Wessel by Tuesday night, according to published reports. The case is being handled by the Army Criminal Investigation Command in Quantico, Va., officials said.

Wessel was being held Tuesday night at Bell County Jail in Belton, Texas, without bail, a military spokesman told area news organizations.

Ryan Dickinson left the Army in December for medical reasons, his sister said. He was married, had two children and still lived in Texas, maintaining ties with several soldiers stationed at Fort Hood.

After graduating from Connetquot High School, Dickinson briefly attended Tompkins Cortland Community College in upstate Dryden, but left after a few weeks to join the Army, his sister said, adding that he met his future wife, Heather, at the college. They were later married, and he eventually shipped off to Iraq. His 15-month deployment there was spent clearing roads of the improvised explosive devices that proved to be a main killer of U.S. troops, Kate Dickinson said.

He returned home to Long Island in March 2009, arriving at MacArthur Airport to a hero's welcome amid hundreds of family and friends waving American flags.

Eight months later, Army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Hasan opened fire at Fort Hood, and a year after that, Dickinson was back at the Texas base, attending a memorial service for the 13 killed and more than 30 injured in the shooting.

His own mental trauma from his combat tour finally caught up with him last year, when he took a medical retirement after suffering from severe symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, his sister said.

"Wow . . . officially medically retired from the army today . . . Can't believe it . . . 7 Long years . . . Now on to the next chapter," said a Facebook post from Dickinson on Dec. 28, 2012.

Dickinson and his family settled in Round Rock, north of Austin, Texas. His children began first grade and kindergarten last week, Kate Dickinson said.

He was at a Labor Day weekend barbecue when he and Wessel crossed paths, his sister said. Kate Dickinson said she was told that the two men had a verbal dispute and the party host asked Wessel to leave. He later returned with a firearm and shot Dickinson in the chest, his sister said.

She said their divorced parents, Tim Dickinson, of Syosset, and Donna Dickinson, of Oakdale, flew to Texas after learning of the shooting.

"My mom lost her son, and is having a difficult time," Kate Dickinson said. "My dad is staying strong and trying to hold things together as best he can."

Funeral arrangements at Moloney's Holbrook Funeral Home, in Holbrook, were not complete Tuesday night.

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