Final farewell: Green Beret killed in Jordan is laid to rest at Arlington

A Special Forces soldier pays his respects at the casket of Staff Sgt. Kevin McEnroe at Arlington National Cemetery on Dec. 5, 2016. McEnroe, 30, was one of three U.S. servicemembers killed while entering a Jordanian military base in November.


By DIANNA CAHN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 5, 2016

ARLINGTON, Va. — Their black dress shoes click in unison on the damp pavement amid the white stone markers — a full platoon marching in somber, ceremonial tribute.

He is being set to rest on this temperate December morning with full military honors. 

The horse-drawn caisson carries his casket, shrouded in a United States flag.

Then the mourners come — the grieving parents, his younger brothers, the woman who had been planning to spend her life with him.

Soldiers of The Old Guard lift the casket and carry it to the allocated plot at Arlington National Cemetery.

The mourners follow. They sit, blanketed in grief and military tradition.

“This is the place where valor rests,” the chaplain begins.

Getting out

They’d been dating for three years and he’d been saving for a long time.

When he returned from his fourth and what was supposed to be his last deployment in June, Staff Sgt. Kevin McEnroe planned a trip with Kimberly Argo to Italy, where he intended to propose.

He spent the better part of his deployment doing research — ever meticulous — and emailing with his mother from Saudi Arabia asking about diamond shapes and styles. He made sure it wasn’t too big because as a hairdresser Argo works with her hands, and he chose platinum so it wouldn’t wear out.

“The perfect ring for the perfect girl,” he told his mother.

But when the Army Special Forces soldier signed up for one final tour — training troops in Jordan — his would-be fiancée urged him to wait to propose until he was home for good.

She wanted to get engaged knowing they had their whole life ahead of them.

Instead, on Nov. 7, Argo joined McEnroe’s mother, father and brothers at Dover Air Force Base, where uniformed soldiers delivered his flag-draped transfer case, along with the remains of two Green Beret teammates, Staff Sgt. Matthew Lewellen and Staff Sgt. James Moriarty.

Before the family returned to their hotel rooms that evening, Linda Frost pulled aside the young woman her son loved.

“It wasn’t meant for anyone else,” she said, placing the box in her hand. Frost watched as she opened it in tears.

“Oh my God, it fits perfect,” she said as she slipped on the ring.

“Of course it fits perfect,” his mother said. “He wouldn’t have had it any other way.”

Buried amid the markers

“In his life he honored the flag, in death the flag shall honor him,” the chaplain says.

The white markers fan out in perfect symmetry; the firing squad releases three volleys; a bugler plays “Taps.”

As the band plays “America the Beautiful,” soldiers fold the flag with precision and present it to McEnroe’s mother.

Another is presented to his father.

Secretary of the Army Eric Fanning kneels to console them.

Then come the members of his unit, Green Berets kneeling one by one to share in their grief. He was a warrior — one of theirs.

A man with a guitar

McEnroe was not one his parents expected would go into the rough and rigorous world of Special Forces. He liked his creature comforts, enjoyed fine clothes and, as a child, didn’t like getting his hands dirty.

“So odd when you think about what he ended up doing,” his mother said.

But his meticulous nature served him well. When he was little, he spent hours building things out of Legos — his prized possessions — and he dedicated a corner of his room to his creations to make sure nothing happened to them.

Later, he tinkered with cars and had a knack for languages and fixing broken machinery.

“I think that’s what made him good at what he did,” Frost said. “His mind was scientific, mathematical. That’s why he was good at music. He was a ‘MacGyver’ type guy. He could make things work.” But he was also richly diverse — a creative cook and a skilled guitar player who spoke fluent Arabic and Russian, his mother said, and was at once tough and sensitive, authoritative and warmly likable.

Argo tapped into his soft side. She gave McEnroe a teddy bear and his roommate told Frost that the Green Beret took that stuffed animal with him on deployments.

“He was just this very loving, sensitive soul,” his mother said. “Even though he was this very rough and tough, get-it-done guy to the rest to the world.”

His roommate told McEnroe’s parents that during a deployment to Afghanistan, the men were staying in a damp, stinking place in Kabul. McEnroe decided the guys needed a place to sit and relax.

So he and his roommate dug a fire pit, lining the wall with bricks and using an old satellite dish as the pit liner. The first time they lit a fire, chemical fumes nearly choked them, he said. But after that, he would go out there with his guitar and play songs by the fire.

In that landlocked, embattled capital, he created a retreat. He nicknamed the fire pit “OFP” — short for oceanfront property.

The shooting

The Green Berets had gone outside of the King Faisal Air Base in Al Jafr on Nov. 4 to conduct training.

Lewellen, 27, of Lawrence, Kan.; Moriarty, 27, of Kerrville, Texas; and McEnroe, 30, of Tucson, Ariz., were part of 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) out of Fort Campbell, Ky. Several news outlets reported that they were working for the CIA to train moderate Syrian rebels.

They were returning in a small convoy when the Jordanian guard at the gate apparently opened fire.

The Army has been secretive about the circumstances of the incident, awaiting the completion of an investigation, but U.S. officials have confirmed that there is security camera video of the event and it appears to show a lone Jordanian gunman at a checkpoint opening fire.

The officials corroborated what the families have heard: That the Jordanian waved the first vehicle through the checkpoint and then opened fire on the second vehicle, killing the two Americans inside.

Brian McEnroe said his son died instantly. “I am aware of my son’s injuries,” he said. “He never had a chance.”

U.S. troops in a rear vehicle returned fire. A third American was killed but the fourth, who was wounded, shot the Jordanian. Officials said the Jordanian was in critical condition.

Lewellen, who was posthumously promoted to sergeant first class, was buried at the veterans’ cemetery near his hometown in Jacksonville, Mo. The other two were buried Monday at Arlington.

Becoming a Green Beret

During his early years, his family moved around from outside Dallas to Chicago. After his parents divorced, McEnroe and his twin brothers Chris and Nick, who were five years younger, moved with their mother to Tucson.

He moved in with his father in Colorado during his final year in high school so he could attend University of Colorado Boulder. McEnroe quickly realized he wasn’t ready to buckle down on his studies. He called his mother and asked whether he could stay with her for a few months.

He joined the Army. He was going to be a Green Beret, he told his parents. Never mind that the recruiter told him only a select few get in.

McEnroe told his dad about the rigors of training and was so proud when he got his green beret. After he began serving, he rarely spoke about his work.

Since McEnroe’s death, his father has been overwhelmed with calls from men who served with his son.

“They all testify to his prowess as a soldier, an operator,” Brian McEnroe said. They also relayed stories about the man his son had become. About his big heart and the time and energy he gave to others to make sure they were OK.

“I know my son was a good man, but I never realized how good a man he was,” he said.

Frost watched her son transform into a responsible, accomplished professional who loved what he did. But even as he got tougher, he never lost his soft side — or his close bond with his mother.

When he deployed in October, Frost flew down to Nashville to see him before he left. Her son was planning to move to join Argo in Connecticut when he got back and enroll in school.

McEnroe’s father said he wanted to save some extra money so he stayed in for one more tour.

He stopped by the restaurant in Nashville where his brothers worked to say goodbye to the close-knit staff, then took his brothers out to dinner.

Like all the other times, he gave his mother a big bear hug goodbye and said, “Don’t worry, Mama, I will be OK.” Like the other times, he texted her before he left the country. “Kevin out,” he wrote.

He had been gone little more than a week of his five-month deployment when the doorbell rang that Friday night.

The wooden box

One by one, McEnroe’s fellow warriors walk up to the casket to offer a final salute to their fallen comrade and to pound pins into the wooden box to show respect.

A bagpiper plays “Amazing Grace.”

His mother walks up to his casket.

She places a rose on it, then leans over to kiss the box.

The Green Berets walk away. But they aren’t going far. The funeral of Staff Sgt. James Moriarty is almost about to begin.

Twitter: @diannacahn

Brian McEnroe, the father of Army Staff Sgt. Kevin McEnroe, wipes away tears at his son's funeral at Arlington National Cemetery on Dec. 5, 2016. Kevin McEnroe, 30, was one of three U.S. servicemembers killed while entering a Jordanian military base in November.