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US Military Brings Home Six Airmen Killed in Afghanistan

Service members from several units at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, pay their respects during a fallen comrade ceremony held in honor of six Airmen Dec. 23, 2015. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Robert Cloys)
Service members from several units at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, pay their respects during a fallen comrade ceremony held in honor of six Airmen Dec. 23, 2015. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Robert Cloys)

The six U.S. airmen killed by a Taliban suicide bomber on patrol in Afghanistan this week were being brought home to their families in flag-draped caskets Wednesday as part of a "dignified transfer" ceremony at New Castle Air National Guard Base in Delaware.

Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James were to be among the mourners awaiting the arrival of the C-17 aircraft from Afghanistan.

In the Air Force, the six were together in a special counter-terrorism unit, but in civilian life they were as diverse as the nation they served.

One was gay and had worked to end the military's "Don't Ask, Don' Tell" policy; another was a cop who tracked down felony fugitives in the Bronx; another was a high school champion defensive back. Their hometowns were as varied as they were -- among them Statesboro, Georgia; Plymouth, Minnesota, Coram, New York; Mercedes, Texas.

The six were part of a foot patrol in a village near the huge Bagram Air Base north of Kabul that was attacked Monday by a Taliban suicide bomber riding a motorcycle. Two other U.S. service members and an Afghan interpreter were wounded in the incident.

Four of the six were with the Air Force' Office of Special Investigations and worked as a team on counter-terrorism. The two others -- Tech. Sgt. Joseph G. Lemm and Staff Sgt. Louis M. Bonacasa -- worked security for the investigative team.

The highest-ranking was Maj. Adrianna M. Vorderbruggen, 36, of Plymouth, Minnesota. She was assigned to the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, 9th Field Investigations Squadron, Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.

Vordebruggen was one of the first openly gay Air Force officers to marry her partner while serving in uniform. She met the woman who was to become her wife, Heather Lamb, before the repeal of the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy in 2011.

The couple married in 2013 and now have a son, Jacob. According to an essay posted by Vorderbruggen's mother-in-law, Anne Lamb, Vorderbruggen had to hide the relationship and request leave to help a "friend" with her new baby.

"Adrianna couldn't share their good news, because if she had, her career could have been destroyed," Anne Lamb wrote.

"Our son Jacob and I miss her so much," Heather Lamb told The New York Times. "Our consolation is, we know she wanted to be there, she believed in and loved her work, and she was doing important work on behalf of the Afghans and our nation. She has always been my hero, never more so than now."

Lemm, 45, of the Bronx, New York, was assigned to the 105th Security Forces Squadron at Stewart Air National Guard Base, New York. He was an NYPD Detective assigned to the Bronx Warrant Squad and had previously served tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. Lemm was married and had two children.

Lemm's commander in the NYPD, Capt. William Kivlehan, said in a conference call with reporters that Lemm was "a heck of a cop. He got a lot of violent guys off the street. He got a lot of guns off the street."

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo directed that flags on all state government buildings be flown at half-staff in Lemm's honor. Cuomo said Lemm "served this nation with the selflessness and bravery that embodies the U.S. Armed Forces and the NYPD."

Staff Sgt. Bonacasa, 31, of Coram on Long Island was also assigned to the 105th Security Forces Squadron at Stewart Air National Guard Base, New York. At Bagram, Bonacasa was Lemm's roommate.

Bonacasa joined the Air Force right after graduation from Long Island's Newfield High School in 2002. He was on his fourth overseas deployment, having served previously in Iraq, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Bonacasa was married and had a five-year-old daughter.

Staff Sgt. Michael A. Cinco, 28, of Mercedes, Texas, was assigned to the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, 11th Field Investigations Squadron, Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas.

On Tuesday night, his friends and family joined others at the Mercedes Veterans War Memorial to light candles in honor of Cincio and 47 other veterans from the Rio Grande valley area who have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan since the sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.

Staff Sgt. Peter W. Taub, 30, of Philadelphia. was assigned to the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, Detachment 816, Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota. Taub, an eight-year Air Force veteran who had recently re-enlisted, had a three-year-old daughter and his wife was pregnant.

His father, Joel Taub, told WPVI-TV in Philadelphia that his son was "a good kid. He was a good person, real good personality, he was funny, he was thoughtful. He was a really good family man, loved his wife, loved his daughter." In the Air Force, Peter Taub "found direction, discipline and just became a real man," the father said.

Staff Sgt.  Chester J. McBride, 30, of Statesboro, Georgia, was assigned to the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, Detachment 405, Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama.

McBride was a football standout at Statesboro High School, where he played defensive back on the team that won a 2001 state championship. An uncle, Kenneth McBride, told The Associated Press his nephew also played football at Savannah State University before he joined the military.

The uncle said they often hit the gym to lift weights together when his nephew would come home on leave. "He was real strong and had just a great positive attitude about what he was doing," Kenneth McBride said. "He loved the military."

The suicide attack on Monday near Bagram marked the deadliest day for U.S. troops in Afghanistan since May 2013, when five troops were killed by a roadside bomb in the country's south and two were killed by an Afghan soldier in an insider attack in the west.

In a statement, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said, "The tragic loss of six airmen casts a dark shadow over our Air Force this holiday season.

"As we collectively mourn with their families and loved ones, let us never forget their courage, bravery, and selflessness. These Airmen volunteered to serve their country and by doing so, gave a full measure of devotion," she said.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@military.com.

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Air Force Global Hot Spots Afghanistan Taliban Featured Richard Sisk

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