Growing up in the shadow of the Army’s Fort Huachuca in Arizona, David J. Berry wanted to join the military from the time he was a child. He studied its history, its tactics, and the intertwined relationship it had with foreign policy, his father said.
Berry, 33, was killed in an attack by militants on the luxury Corinthia Hotel in Libya’s capital on Tuesday. A private security contractor, he was a Marine Corps veteran who had served in Special Operations units and performed counterintelligence. He had been working in Libya for nearly a year, but had recently visited his family in the United States. He leaves a wife, Elizabeth, and four children between the ages of 13 and nearly 2, said his father, James Berry.
“He loved what he was doing, and he was a true American patriot,” Berry’s father said. “He had told Elizabeth and myself when he was back in the States about a week ago on a brief visit that he was very happy with what he was doing. He felt like he was making progress in Libya, in Tripoli, with the warring factions there and really felt that his presence was extremely important.”
Berry was a project security manager with Team Crucible LLC, a private security training and operations firm in Fredericksburg, Va., the company said. The company’s chief operating officer, Cliff Taylor, declined to disclose the nature of Berry’s work.
“On January 27th our company was the victim of a terrorist attack at The Corinthia Hotel in Tripoli, Libya,” Taylor said in a statement. “During the attack one of our employees, David Berry was killed. Our company mourns this extraordinary loss with his family and friends.”
Berry is the only American victim to be identified following the attack, in which gunmen stormed the seaside hotel and a car bomb exploded, killing at least 10. He and his wife own a home in Gainesville, Va., about 40 miles west of Washington, and have other family in his native state of Arizona.
Elizabeth Berry was not ready to comment on her husband’s death, James Berry said. She did not return a voice mail left Wednesday morning.
Berry’s death highlights both the spiraling violence in Libya, and the quiet work that U.S. veterans sometimes do as contractors after leaving military service.
An offshoot of the Islamic State militant group in Libya claimed responsibility for the attack, saying on Twitter it was launched in solidarity with a Libyan man who was allegedly involved in al-Qaeda’s 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. That man, Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, was snatched in a U.S. Special Operations raid outside his home in Libya in 2013 and died in a New York hospital earlier this month before going to trial. He had advanced liver cancer when he was captured, authorities said
Libya has been rocked by a series of bombings and ongoing fighting between rival militias in recent months. The U.S. Embassy in Tripoli was evacuated in July. At least 156 military and diplomatic personnel left in a convoy of 39 armored vehicles for Tunisia. The operation required Air Force fighter jets and U.S. Marines in MV-22 Osprey aircraft to fly overhead in case violence erupted. Last week, the State Department warned U.S. citizens against traveling to Libya and recommended that any Americans there leave immediately.
Berry went to boot camp within months of graduating high school, serving in the Marine Corps from September 2000 to September 2012. He earned the rank of staff sergeant before leaving the service, said Yvonne Carlock, a Marine Corps spokeswoman at Quantico, Va.
Berry initially served as a rifleman in the infantry but eventually became an intelligence specialist and a Special Operations capabilities specialist. Berry deployed at least five times beginning in 2002, including twice to Afghanistan and three times to Iraq, and earned the Combat Action Ribbon after personally being involved in combat.
As a Marine, Berry liked serving in the infantry but was enamored with the counterintelligence world. He learned Arabic and noted with pride how important Fort Huachuca — in his hometown of Sierra Vista, Ariz. — was to the intelligence world as the home of the U.S. Army Intelligence Center, his father said.
“At that point in time, he became very, very happy with what he was doing,” James Berry said of his son working in the intelligence world. “He said, ‘Dad, I have a lot of stories to tell you but I can’t tell you anything about what I’m doing. But I love my job.’”
He decided to leave the service as military operations in Afghanistan drew to a close. Berry joined another private security firm, the Surveillance Reconnaissance Intelligence Group, in August 2012, and he later helped train Lebanese armed forces in Beirut while working for American Systems Corp., a firm with headquarters in Chantilly, Va., according to his LinkedIn profile.
Berry joined Team Crucible in July 2014 and worked as both a site security manager and project security manager, according to the profile. He stayed in touch with family frequently through e-mail while he was gone, his father said.
“He knew about the warring factions in the place he was at, and he knew about the conflict, and he was trying to bring a conciliatory voice into the conflict,” James Berry said. “He was trying to bring some kind of unity to that country. I would say that practicality was definitely one of his strong suits. That, and patience. He knew how to work in the system there because he knew the culture, and he expressed extreme optimism when I wanted to talk to him about what he was currently doing.”
Julie Tate contributed to this report.