Ganjgal casualties to get posthumous awards

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By This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. - Staff writer Marine Corps Times
Posted : Monday Sep 13, 2010 17:15:02 EDT

WILLIAMSVILLE, N.Y. — Three Marines and a Navy corpsman will be awarded the Bronze Star with V on Friday, a year after they died together facing an hours-long ambush in eastern Afghanistan without air or artillery support, family members said.

Gunnery Sgts. Edwin Johnson and Aaron Kenefick, 1st Lt. Michael Johnson and Hospitalman 3rd Class James Layton will receive the awards at the National Museum of the Marine Corps, near Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va. They all were members of Embedded Training Team 2-8, which deployed to Kunar province to work with Afghan security forces.

The early-morning attack occurred Sept. 8, 2009, and made national headlines after an embedded McClatchy News Service journalist on the battlefield that day reported they were pinned down for hours near the village of Ganjgal. A subsequent investigation conducted jointly by Army and Marine colonels cited three Army officers at a nearby base for negligent leadership “contributing directly to the loss of life.”

The attack killed not only the four U.S. service members, but eight Afghan troops and an Afghan interpreter traveling with them, according to a declassified copy of the investigation report obtained by Marine Corps Times. Army Sgt. 1st Class Kenneth Westbrook also died Oct. 7, 2009, at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington after sustaining gunshot wounds to the neck and cheek in the Ganjgal battle.

Susan Price, Kenefick’s mother, said the awards presentation will provide an additional level of closure in processing her son’s death.

“It wasn’t just losing my son. It was knowing that my child, my baby boy, was kind of abandoned on a dangerous front. They said they would have their backs, and they didn’t,” she said. “I remember my son told me, ‘Mom, if I’m ever cornered by the enemy, I’ll go down fighting. I’ll never be taken as a hostage.”

Officials at Marine Corps headquarters have not responded to attempts to seek comment about the Ganjgal awards, but a Marine official with knowledge of the plans confirmed there will be a ceremony Friday.

Members of four of the families who lost loved ones near Ganjgal met here, in Kenefick’s hometown, over the weekend for a celebration of the fallen service members’ lives. Brent Layton, the corpsman’s father, said they have been speaking by phone regularly, and have drawn strength from each other.

“We’re kind of at the liberty of what they want us to know,” he said. “It’s not like they’re trying to blow smoke or anything like that, but you’ll just never completely know.”

Family members do not expect that Dakota Meyer, a former Marine corporal who carried their bodies from the battlefield in Ganjgal, will be honored Friday.

Some valor experts have speculated that he deserves consideration for the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for valor, for braving enemy fire three times to carry his buddies’ bodies out of the kill zone. Military officials have said Meyer’s actions are under investigation, but declined to say what medal he may ultimately receive.