Three Lewis-McChord soldiers killed by Afghan ally are remembered fondly
The News Tribune (Tacoma, Wash.)
TACOMA, Wash. — Sgt. Sapuro Nena was the broad-smiling, guitar-playing “heart and soul” of his platoon during its mission in southern Afghanistan. Spc. Genaro Bedoy stood out as a “gentleman” at war, doting on his growing family at home.
Pfc. Jon Townsend made the rookie mistake of getting married as a newly enlisted soldier on his way to a combat mission. He couldn’t have been happier for following his heart.
Those three Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldiers died together Sept. 16 when an Afghan ally turned his weapon on them and one other Georgia-based service member at a combat outpost in a remote part of Zabul Province. Their deaths marked the first publicly known incident of an “insider attack” felling Lewis-McChord soldiers this year.
Soldiers at the base gathered Wednesday to mourn the fallen troops with their families at a memorial in a Lewis-McChord chapel.
Their commander, Lt. Col. Jim Dunivan, called the deaths an “unthinkable tragedy” in remarks to his troops in Afghanistan that were modified for the memorial.
Dunivan wrote that he looked at countless photos of the fallen soldiers as he prepared his remarks.
“What continues to strike me the most is that where there is one of these heroes, there is another beside him, together, laughing, singing, working, soldiering, comforting,” he wrote.
Those images came to life as friends described Nena’s laughter, Bedoy’s potential and Townsend’s desire to learn.
“Sgt. Nena validated for me that you can ease any difficult challenge with a dose of humor,” said friend Staff Sgt. Jesse Ayin.
Nena, 25, grew up in Micronesia and joined the Army in 2006. Ayin said Nena loved the Army for the adventure it represented.
On his deployment, Nena constantly studied in his downtime to earn a promotion. He was a natural leader with charisma and an easygoing smile.
“To lead soldiers, one has to not only have rank, but have the desire, passion and competence to do so. Sapuro possessed it and more,” said his cavalry troop commander, Capt. Brian Rieser, in written remarks.
Bedoy’s family sobbed at the memorial, giving voice to the teary eyes throughout the chapel. The 20-year-old soldier from Amarillo, Texas, left behind an infant daughter, Sophia.
His friend Sgt. Chris Kagawa promised to share Bedoy’s war stories with Sophia one day because Bedoy could not raise her as the father he wanted to be.
Bedoy was young, but his commander saw a bright future for him in the service.
“He demonstrated maturity and leadership skills years above his actual time in service. Genaro excelled as a soldier and could do no wrong,” Rieser wrote.
Townsend, at 19, was the youngest of three fallen soldiers.
The soldier from Oklahoma looked distressed when Staff Sgt. Joshua Stegmeyer first saw him in Afghanistan. Townsend had misplaced some essential equipment and received a dressing-down on his way to his forward base in Zabul Province.
Townsend took the lesson to heart and went on to distinguish himself, Stegmeyer said.
“I have never in my life seen someone so young change their attitude so fast and learn so much,” he said.
Anyone who talked about Townsend remembered the love he showed in sharing memories about his family and his wife, Brittany. Capt. Rieser once advised Townsend against getting married as a young man before a deployment.
In time, Rieser saw that Townsend had made the right choice.
“Nothing could have made him happier, as she would always be the topic of his conversation,” Rieser said.
No one at the ceremony explicitly called the incident that caused the deaths an “insider attack.” A NATO spokesman in Afghanistan just after the shootings said the men were killed by an Afghan police officer during an attack on their combat outpost.
This year, Afghan police and soldiers have killed more than 50 Western service members, threatening the partnership between Afghan forces and NATO in the war’s final years.
At the memorial, the closest description of how the soldiers died came in Dunivan’s raw remarks about the grief the shootings caused in his unit, the 1st Squadron, 14th Cavalry Regiment.
“Right now we are all sharing grief, anger concern, compassion, regret,” he wrote. “It is easy for us during times like this of exceptional loss to ask why? Our entire faith in the mission, in mankind, in the almighty can be shaken and questioned.”
“What we cannot question, however, is our commitment to each other – those of us left behind in the wake of this unthinkable tragedy,” he wrote as he sought to rally his soldiers to care for one another in the final months of their deployment.