Troops in Afghanistan remember 6 airmen killed in suicide attack
December 23, 2015
BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan — They were pioneers, leaders, practical jokers and mentors. The six airmen killed by a suicide bomber were remembered at an emotional ceremony Wednesday.
Fighting back tears, Air Force Special Agent Heather Garver addressed about 300 mourners who packed a clamshell tent at Bagram Air Field, near where the six were killed Monday.
“Our fallen leaders would want us to bounce back and continue with our mission,” she said.
Those killed in the attack were:
Maj. Adrianna M. Vorderbruggen, 36, of Plymouth, Minn.; Staff Sgt. Michael A. Cinco, 28, of Mercedes, Texas; Staff Sgt. Peter W. Taub, 30, of Philadelphia; Staff Sgt. Chester J. McBride, 30, of Statesboro, Ga.; Tech. Sgt. Joseph G. Lemm, 45, of Bronx, N.Y.; Staff Sgt. Louis M. Bonacasa, 31, of Coram, N.Y. They were all part of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, a military law enforcement agency. The airmen were on what military officials have described as a “security patrol” Monday, when a suicide bomber plowed his motorcycle into their foot patrol and detonated his explosives. In addition to the dead, two U.S. airmen and an American interpreter were injured.
At the service Wednesday, the customary arrangement of helmet, rifle and boots were placed above photos of the slain airmen. After taps, a long procession of mourners lined up to touch their boots one last time and say goodbye.
Some of the airmen’s friends and colleagues addressed the service with remembrances.
After repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, Vorderbruggen, was one of the first American servicemembers to marry in a same-sex ceremony. She is survived by her wife, Heather, and son, Jacob.
Garver described her as “eager” and “outgoing” and said she interacted with “wit” and “candor.”
“She was a great leader and mentor,” she said.
Lemm, call sign “Maniac,” was a detective and 15-year veteran of the New York City Police Department and served with the New York Air National Guard, NYPD Commissioner William J. Bratton said in a statement. He is survived by a son, Ryan.
His New York Air National Guard colleague, Bonacasa, call sign “Peacock,” “wanted to spread his wings and fly,” Master Sgt. Aaron Fredrick said during the memorial service. He is survived by his wife, Deborah, and daughter, Lilianna.
“Both of these men were warriors and defenders of the highest caliber,” Fredrick said.
Cinco was a “California guy” who sprinkled “bro” in his conversations, but his laid-back nature belied a sharp intelligence that always kept him “one step ahead,” Garver said. He is survived by his wife, Veronica.
“His vocabulary has been infectious, with the entire unit using ‘bro,’” Garver said.
McBride “hard-charged to chase his dream,” had a master’s degree and had been accepted to the FBI Academy, which he was to start in the summer, Garver said.
And Taub made everyone laugh, recently musing about how to sneak a live sheep onto base to prepare for Thanksgiving dinner, Garver said. He is survived by his wife, Christina, and daughter, Penelope.
“He had an uncanny ability to make even the toughest situations tolerable,” Garver said.
The deaths were a rarity in this phase of the war, with foreign troops more focused on training and advising their Afghan counterparts than conducting combat operations. But the attack is also a reminder that, despite the White House’s calling the current U.S. mission here “noncombat,” troops still face grave dangers.
The deaths in Monday’s attack marked the biggest single loss of life due to hostile fire suffered by the U.S. military since the NATO combat mission ended last year. Six U.S. airmen and five civilian contractors were killed in October when a C-130 crashed in Jalalabad, but U.S. officials said hostile fire was not believed involved.
There have been 27 coalition troops killed, including 22 Americans, in 2015, according to iCasualties.org.