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American soldier wounded in Manbij attack fighting for his life

Capt. Jonathan Turnbull of Gaylord, Mich., is pictured here as a first lieutenant deployed with Apache Troop, 3rd Squadron, 7th United States Cavalry to Combat Outpost Shir Khan, Afghanistan, in a screenshot of a December 2012 holiday greetings video. Turnbull was badly wounded in a bombing in Manbij, Syria, on Wednesday, Jan. 16, and was said to be in serious condition at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany on Monday, Jan. 22, 2019.

COURTESY OF U.S. ARMY

By CHAD GARLAND | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 22, 2019

A soldier wounded in a deadly bombing in the Syrian town of Manbij last week is fighting for his life in a military hospital in Germany, according to family and friends.

Capt. Jonathan Turnbull, 32, a native of Gaylord, Mich., is being treated at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center and is in serious condition, a spokeswoman said Tuesday. She declined to provide details due to privacy laws.

Serious condition means vital signs may be unstable and outside normal limits, and that the patient’s prospects remain uncertain, according to the Landstuhl hospital’s website.

After the deadly attack on Wednesday, which killed four Americans and more than a dozen others, Turnbull was evacuated for treatment first to Baghdad to be stabilized and then to Germany, the family had said in statements to the press and on social media.

Loved ones, neighbors and local church leaders called for prayers last week.

“Our thing is faith over fear,” Suzanne Hollister, the soldier’s aunt, told ABC12 News in Flint, Mich., last week. “God has protected him so far. He’s been a miracle. They said that he shouldn’t have made it.”

The family has since asked for privacy. A fundraiser on GoFundMe.com seeking donations to support what Turnbull’s family said would be a long recovery was shuttered over “security concerns” after raising about $8,600 of an original $50,000 goal in a matter of hours.

Defense officials on Friday had identified an Army Green Beret, a Navy linguist and a Defense Intelligence Agency civilian who had been killed by the blast, the deadliest incident in Syria for the U.S. military since it began operating there in 2015. They were named as Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jonathan R. Farmer, 37, of Boynton Beach, Fla.; Chief Petty Officer Shannon M. Kent, 35, of Pine Plains, N.Y.; and former Navy SEAL Scott A. Wirtz, 42, of St. Louis, Mo.

In a statement of condolences on Saturday, Gen. Joseph Votel, U.S. Central Command Chief, named a fourth slain American, a civilian contractor named Ghadir Taher. Her brother had earlier identified the 27-year-old as an interpreter for the U.S. military, a naturalized U.S. citizen who had immigrated from Syria as a young girl and graduated high school near Atlanta.

Officials had declined to identify the three wounded U.S. troops who had survived the blast, but Turnbull’s family members named him online last week and in interviews with Michigan news outlets, saying he was in bad shape, but expected to recover from his wounds.

An investigation into the incident is ongoing. It appeared to be the work of ISIS, which remains active in the region. President Donald Trump has called for the withdrawal of some 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria.

U.S.-backed fighters in Iraq and Syria continue to battle the remaining ISIS militants in those countries. Speaking at the Pentagon after last week’s attack, Vice President Mike Pence vowed that the U.S. would pull out in a way that would prevent ISIS from resurging, saying the latest deaths will “steel our resolve as we begin to bring our troops home.”

Turnbull was slated to return home days before last week’s blast, friends and family have said, but his deployment got extended.

The family received the news that he’d been wounded a few days later, his sister-in-law Sarah Williams told ABC12 News.

“’Freedom isn’t free.’ He always said that. We didn’t realize the cost of that until 24 hours ago,” she said. “We’re very thankful that he’s going to survive. We didn’t think that at one point.”

Surgeons in Iraq had removed shrapnel and placed a shunt in Turnbull’s head to relieve pressure on his brain, his cousin wrote on the GoFundMe page that’s since been closed. He had lost vision in his eye, said Erin Turnbull. It’s unclear if he regained his vision.

In a post shared by others on social media, a pastor at Jonathan Turnbull’s hometown church said his injuries also included a broken pelvis and a fractured skull.

His deployment to Syria was supposed to be his last, some family members had said.

“Our main goal right now is to just get him back home on American soil and just for his healing,” Williams told WILX News in Lansing, Mich. “It’s going to be a lengthy healing, but he’s a strong guy.”

garland.chad@stripes.com
Twitter: @chadgarland

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