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Home communities mourn three U.S. soldiers, all from Georgia, killed in drone attack

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

The Department of Defense now says more than 40 people were injured in the drone strike on a U.S. outpost in Jordan near the borders of Iraq and Syria this past Sunday. President Biden called the families of the three soldiers killed in the attack. They were all from Georgia. And their home communities are just beginning to mourn the losses. Grant Blankenship with Georgia Public Broadcasting is covering this story. Hey, Grant.

GRANT BLANKENSHIP, BYLINE: Hey. Good afternoon.

KELLY: Tell me about the three soldiers who were killed.

BLANKENSHIP: Well, all three were members of the Army Reserve 718th Engineer Company, based at Fort Moore, near the Alabama border. The oldest was Sergeant William J. Rivers. He was 46. He lived in Carrollton, west of Atlanta. And he was an electrician in the Army Reserve. In 2018, he was part of a nine-month rotation to Iraq. He'd collected a number of service medals, in fact, for his deployments. He was trained at Fort McGuire-Dix in New Jersey, but he had been with Fort Moore-based companies since last year. Breonna Moffett and Kennedy Sanders were both specialists until receiving posthumous promotions to sergeant from the president just today. Moffett was just 23 years old. She's from Savannah. The mayor there, Van Johnson - he spoke about her today.

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VAN JOHNSON: Our city is heartbroken. And she was a citizen soldier among young people who go to service. The Bible says there is no greater love than a man lay down his life for his friends. And so we love Breonna Moffett for loving us.

BLANKENSHIP: The mayor has ordered flags in the city to fly at half-staff in her honor. And, you know, something that really speaks to how young she was was that her old high school there in Savannah is planning an assembly in her honor for later this week.

KELLY: Yeah, so young - just 23, you said. And I understand the third victim was just a year older.

BLANKENSHIP: Yeah, yeah. That's true. Sanders was only 24. She was from Waycross, a south Georgia town of less than 15,000 people. You know, it's the kind of place where news travels really quickly. Scott Moye is the county manager in surrounding Ware County. He made the decision to lower flags in the county to half-staff as soon as he knew that Ware County had lost one of their own.

SCOTT MOYE: You know, graduating from high school here - she actually graduated with my youngest daughter. And I don't know. That just - it was something that we wanted to do to honor her and recognize her and to extend our thoughts and prayers to the family.

BLANKENSHIP: Sanders was a basketball player at Ware County High School. She was still a youth soccer and basketball coach when she was home in Waycross. She was also newly an aunt. And she volunteered for this deployment.

KELLY: So people there in Georgia are offering condolences. What else are they saying about this incident, about everything that happened?

BLANKENSHIP: Well, you know, in Savannah, Mayor Van Johnson is joining the voices who are asking for some justice for these service members.

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JOHNSON: I hope and trust that the United States of America will actively investigate and hold those accountable for these types of acts.

BLANKENSHIP: Yeah. And so on Friday, President Biden will attend the dignified transfer of their bodies back to U.S. soil at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. And in Savannah and Waycross, officials say the flags will remain at half-staff until the sun sets on the soldiers' funerals.

KELLY: Thank you, Grant.

BLANKENSHIP: Thank you for having me.

KELLY: Grant Blankenship with Georgia Public Broadcasting.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Grant came to public media after a career spent in newspaper photojournalism. As an all platform journalist he seeks to wed the values of public radio storytelling and the best of photojournalism online.