AP

3 US soldiers from Georgia killed in Jordan drone strike

Jan 29, 2024, 6:00 PM

This undated image provided by Shawn Sanders shows Army Spc. Kennedy Sanders, right, posing for a s...

This undated image provided by Shawn Sanders shows Army Spc. Kennedy Sanders, right, posing for a selfie with her mother, Oneida Oliver-Sanders, at a ceremony in Columbus, Ga., on Aug. 9, 2023. The 24-year-old Army reservist's parents confirmed she was among three U.S. service members killed Sunday, Jan. 28, 2024, by a drone strike at their base in Jordan near the border with Syria. Sanders of Waycross, Georgia, joined the Army Reserve five years ago, her parents said, and was taking college courses to become an X-ray technician. (Shawn Sanders via AP)

(Shawn Sanders via AP)

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — During their last phone conversation, Spc. Kennedy Sanders told her mother she wanted to take her military career to a new level when she returned home from the Middle East. She also revealed, to her mother’s strict disapproval, that she was thinking of buying a motorcycle.

The 24-year-old Army reservist and her family were already looking ahead to summer when Sanders was scheduled to return to Waycross, Georgia, the hometown where she helped coach soccer and basketball. It was there she also worked at a pharmacy and was taking college courses with the aim of becoming an X-ray technician some day.

Plans to celebrate the young citizen-soldier’s homecoming in June were shattered Sunday when military officers showed up at her parents’ house to deliver the worst possible news: Sanders was among three U.S. Army Reserve soldiers from Georgia killed by a weekend drone strike on their base in Jordan near the Syrian border.

The attack also killed Sgt. William Jerome Rivers, 46, of Carrollton and Spc. Breonna Alexsondria Moffett, 23, of Savannah, the Defense Department said Monday. All three were reservists assigned to the 926th Engineer Brigade based at Fort Moore, Georgia.

Brig. Gen. Todd Lazaroski, Commanding General, 412th Theater Engineer Command expressed condolences to the families, loved ones and teammates of those killed.

“We are reminded that the brave men and women who defend our great nation put their lives on the line each and every day to keep our country safe,” he said in a news release. “They represent the best of America. We will remember their service and their sacrifice.”

Rivers enlisted in the Army Reserve in 2011 and was first assigned to the 990th Engineer Company at Fort McGuire-Dix in New Jersey. He completed a nine-month tour in Iraq in 2018 and was assigned to Fort Moore last year.

Moffett enlisted in the Army Reserve in 2019 and was initially assigned to the 381st Engineer Company in Tifton, then Fort Moore last year.

Sanders’ parents said she had volunteered to deploy, eager to see a different part of the world.

“She was loved. She didn’t have any enemies. All the time you saw her smiling,” her father, Shawn Sanders, said in an interview Monday. “This is somebody who was just living life, enjoying life at a young age, working toward a career.”

An outpouring of grief spread swiftly in Waycross and surrounding Ware County, home to 36,000 people, some 100 miles (160 kilometers) southwest of Savannah. Flags were lowered to half-staff. The family’s congressman and state lawmakers called, offering condolences. A local judge posted a photo online of the young woman when she had volunteered for his campaign.

Sanders and her twin brother were the middle children of five siblings born and raised in the community. Her father served in the Marine Corps and her mother, Oneida Oliver-Sanders, had served on the county school board.

Sanders joined the Army Reserve five years ago, her father said. She previously deployed to Djibouti before volunteering to go to Kuwait, a trip that included a few months in Jordan where the U.S. operates a logistics support base along the Syrian border.

In her spare time while deployed, Sanders would practice jiu-jitsu and run to keep in shape. She relaxed by knitting and called home almost daily, her parents said. While she occasionally mentioned drones being shot down nearby, there was no sense of imminent danger.

“She was speaking with her mom the day before,” Shawn Sanders said. “It wasn’t like they were at high alert or in a secure bunker.”

Though some family members had seen TV news reports of the drone attack, Sanders’ parents said they weren’t aware anything was wrong until military officers knocked at their door Sunday. Shawn Sanders said he waited 20 minutes while his wife came home from work. He said he immediately suspected the worst.

“I knew, being a former member of the armed services,” he said. “I wanted it to be something different. But I knew then.”

Sanders’ mother said her daughter had talked of becoming a full-time Army soldier on active duty once her reservist contract was up. She was considering buying a home. And she looked forward to more trips and had even studied Italian in hopes of visiting Italy some day.

“All of these different things that she had plans for, you know, were just cut short in the blink of an eye,” Oneida Sanders said. “I just feel like somebody like her, that’s so full of life, it’s just unfair that she’ll never get to realize those dreams that she had.”

Shawn Sanders called the attack “a senseless act of violence.”

President Joe Biden has promised that the U.S. will respond. Shawn Sanders said he’s confident Biden will make an appropriate decision. Asked what he thinks would be the correct response, the grieving father declined to say.

“Out of anger for losing a child,” he said, “I just can’t.”

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3 US soldiers from Georgia killed in Jordan drone strike