Three military police officers from the N.C. National Guard are among the dead from a suicide bomb attack this week in Khost, Afghanistan. The blast also killed at least 16 Afghans, including six police officers and a NATO interpreter.
Sgt. Donna R. Johnson of Raeford, Sgt. Jeremy F. Hardison of Browns Summit, and Sgt. Thomas J. Butler IV of Leland were members of the National Guards 514th Military Police Company, based in Winterville.
Three additional guardsmen were injured. Their names and conditions have not been released.
We are still grieving for these soldiers, their families and their unit members [who are] still carrying on with their mission, Maj. Gen. Gregory A. Lusk, adjutant general of North Carolina and commander of North Carolina National Guard, said in a statement Wednesday. They were the embodiment of citizen soldiers who put everything on hold to go in harms way for all of us. They will be remembered and sorely missed.
The attack happened around 9 a.m. local time Monday while the soldiers were on patrol at a crowded market. News reports say the bomber waited for the soldiers to get out of their vehicle before detonating a suicide vest.
It was the fourth suicide bombing in the Khost province in five months.
Since 9/11, National Guard and Reserve troops have expanded their role from mostly stateside emergency assistance and humanitarian deployments to what the military calls a more operational force. They deploy alongside full-time active-duty soldiers and do the same jobs.
More than 12,000 men and women serve in the N.C. National Guard. Twenty-six members of the N.C. National Guard have died in operations since 9/11, though not all were related to the attacks. Four troops were killed July 1 when their aircraft crashed while they were fighting a wildfire in the Black Hills of South Dakota.
The 514ths last deployment as a unit was to Kosovo in Eastern Europe in 2004, but many of its 140 soldiers had served in Iraq, Afghanistan or both with other military units. The 514th trained for 18 months for the deployment. The company left Winterville in June for final training at Fort Bliss, Texas, before heading to Afghanistan in August for up to a year.
While there, the company will train Afghan forces in basic law enforcement techniques, such as how to investigate thefts and resolve disputes between neighbors. They also will instruct security forces on how to operate checkpoints and search for weapon caches and terrorist cells.
Before they left, company commander Capt. Patrick Brozowski told the Greenville Reflector, Our mission is clear, and we are going to do our mission to the best of our abilities and we are going to come home to our loved ones, and hopefully we will have made Afghanistan a better place.
The U.S. still has about 77,000 troops in Afghanistan, according to the Pentagon, with plans to withdraw all combat troops by the end of 2013 or early 2014. More than 2,000 U.S. troops have been killed in a decade of fighting there.
The Army provided little information about the three soldiers who were killed in Khost.
Johnson, 29, joined the North Carolina National Guard in August 2006. She deployed to Iraq from 2007 to 2008. Her awards and decorations include the Combat Action Badge, Iraq Campaign Medal and Army Commendation Medal. She worked as a civilian contractor at Fort Bragg.
Hardison, 23, entered the military in May 2006. Also a veteran of service in Iraq, he deployed there in 2009. His awards and decorations include the Combat Action Badge, Iraq Campaign Medal with a campaign star and the Army Commendation Medal. He was married and had a stepdaughter.
Butler, 25, began his military service in June 2007. The deployment to Afghanistan was his first. His awards and decorations include the National Defense Service Medal and the Army Service Ribbon. In his civilian job, Butler worked for the National Guard as the overnight security officer at the training facility in Fort Fisher.
Funeral arrangements for the three soldiers are incomplete.