4 Bronze Stars for deadly Afghan battle

By This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. - Staff writer Marine Corps Times
Posted : Friday Sep 17, 2010 16:29:11 EDT

TRIANGLE, Va. — A year later, the pain is still raw. Five U.S. troops are dead, and the family members left behind are still asking questions.

A few minutes here Friday at the National Museum of the Marine Corps brought a new level of closure to the families of three Marines and a Navy corpsman, however. Their loved ones died Sept. 8, 2009, near the eastern Afghanistan village of Ganjgal after they were pinned down for hours without air or artillery support facing as many as 150 armed insurgents.

In a somber ceremony, the Corps awarded the Bronze Star with “V” to Gunnery Sgts. Edwin “Wayne” Johnson and Aaron Kenefick, 1st Lt. Michael Johnson and Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class James Layton. They were all members of Embedded Training Team 2-8, and found in a trench dead and bloody from gunshots wounds, stripped of their equipment.

“Where do we get such wonderful men?” said Maj. Kevin Williams, who led the training team on the battlefield that day and was wounded in the attack. “We loved Michael, Wayne, Aaron and James. We loved them like a brother loves a brother, and sometimes even tighter than that blood bond. … We loved them, but they loved us more.”

Three Army officers at a nearby base were later cited for providing negligent leadership “contributing directly to the loss of life.” A soldier on the battlefield that day, Sgt. 1st Class Kenneth Westbrook, died Oct. 7, 2009, due to complications from wounds he suffered during the attack. He posthumously received a Bronze Star from the Army last October.

The three Marines and corpsman are credited with working together after they were pinned down to hold off the enemy, allowing a group of Afghan soldiers they were training to rejoin a larger group of coalition troops nearby. They faced a barrage of fire from heavily entrenched insurgents armed with rocket launchers and assault rifles.

A handful of Marines from the training team shared memories during the ceremony. They described Lieutenant Johnson and Gunny Johnson as faithful family men who were cheerful devotees to CrossFit workouts, Kenefick as a hard worker who pushed to join the team and Layton as an imaginative thinker with a wry sense of humor.

The ceremony ended a whirlwind week for the families, four of whom met together for the first time a year after the ambush in Williamsville, N.Y., Kenefick’s hometown. In a two-day “celebration of life” service on Sept. 10 and 11, friends and family members of Lieutenant Johnson, Kenefick, Layton and Westbrook remembered their loved ones, sharing memories, gifts and grief as they slowly heal.

Susan Price, Kenefick’s mother, and Brent Layton, the corpsman’s father, said the families appreciated the solemn way in which the ceremony at the museum was handled by the Corps.

A declassified report of a joint investigation conducted by Army and Marine colonels said at least two service members in the field that day “stand out as extraordinary examples of heroism worthy of the highest recognition.” The names of the troops cited for bravery were redacted from the report, but one of them is believed to be former Cpl. Dakota Meyer, who is credited with finding their bodies after braving enemy fire on foot when helicopter pilots said conditions were too violent to safely land their aircraft.

Source: http://www.marinecorpstimes.com/news/2010/09/marine-bronze-stars-ganjgal-afghanistan-091710w/