Grief and mourning for 3 US soldiers killed in Jordan drone strike who were based in Georgia

This undated image provided by Shawn Sanders shows Army Spc. Kennedy Sanders, right, posing for a selfie with her mother, Oneida Oliver-Sanders, at a ceremony in Columbus, Ga., on Aug. 9, 2023. The 24-year-old Army reservist's parents confirmed she was among three U.S. service members killed Sunday, Jan. 28, 2024, by a drone strike at their base in Jordan near the border with Syria. Sanders of Waycross, Georgia, joined the Army Reserve five years ago, her parents said, and was taking college courses to become an X-ray technician. (Shawn Sanders via AP)
This undated image provided by Shawn Sanders shows Army Spc. Kennedy Sanders, right, posing for a selfie with her mother, Oneida Oliver-Sanders, at a ceremony in Columbus, Ga., on Aug. 9, 2023. The 24-year-old Army reservist's parents confirmed she was among three U.S. service members killed Sunday, Jan. 28, 2024, by a drone strike at their base in Jordan near the border with Syria. Sanders of Waycross, Georgia, joined the Army Reserve five years ago, her parents said, and was taking college courses to become an X-ray technician. (Shawn Sanders via AP)

SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — During their last phone conversation, Spc. Kennedy Sanders told her mother that she wanted to take her military career to a new level when she returned home to Georgia from the Middle East. She also revealed, to her mother's strict disapproval, that she was thinking of buying a motorcycle.

The 24-year-old Army reservist and her family were already looking ahead to summer when Sanders was scheduled to return to Waycross, the hometown where she helped coach soccer and basketball and worked at a pharmacy while taking college courses with the aim of becoming an X-ray technician.

Plans to celebrate the young citizen-soldier's homecoming in June were shattered Sunday when military officers came to her parents' house to deliver the worst possible news: Sanders was among three U.S. Army Reserve soldiers from Georgia killed by a weekend drone strike on their base in Jordan near the Syrian border.

In addition to Sanders, the attack killed Sgt. William Jerome Rivers, 46, of Carrollton and Spc. Breonna Alexsondria Moffett, 23, of Savannah, the Defense Department said Monday. All three were reservists assigned to the 926th Engineer Brigade based at Fort Moore, Georgia.

Sanders' parents said Monday she had volunteered to deploy, eager for a chance to see a different part of the world.

"She was loved. She didn't have any enemies. All the time you saw her smiling," Sanders' father, Shawn Sanders, said in an interview Monday. "This is somebody who was just living life, enjoying life at a young age, working toward a career."

An outpouring of grief and support spread swiftly in Waycross and surrounding Ware County, home to 36,000 people in southeast Georgia about 100 miles (160 kilometers) southwest of Savannah.

City Hall ordered flags to be lowered to half-staff on Monday. The family's congressman and state lawmakers called to offer condolences. A local judge posted a photo on social media of the young woman when she had volunteered for his campaign.

Sanders and her twin brother were the middle children of five siblings born and raised in the community. Her father served in the Marine Corps and her mother, Oneida Oliver-Sanders, had been a member of the county school board.

Sanders joined the Army Reserve five years ago and served as an engineer assigned to a unit based in rural Tifton, Georgia, her father said. She loved to travel, her parents said, and saw the military as a way to see the world. She had previously deployed to Djibouti before volunteering to go to Kuwait, a trip that included a few months in Jordan where the U.S. operates a logistics support base along the Syrian border.

In her spare time while deployed, Sanders would practice jiu-jitsu and run to keep in shape. She relaxed by knitting and coloring in coloring books. She called home almost daily, her parents said. And while she occasionally mentioned drones being shot down at the base, there was no sense of imminent danger.

"She was speaking with her mom the day before," Shawn Sanders said. "It wasn't like they were at high alert or in a secure bunker."

Though some family members had seen the news on TV of the deadly attack in Jordan, Sanders' parents said they weren't aware anything was wrong until uniformed military officers came to their door Sunday. Shawn Sanders said he waited 20 minutes with the visitors so he and his wife could be told together when she got home from work. But he suspected immediately his daughter was dead.

"I knew, being a former member of the armed services," he said. "I wanted it to be something different. But I knew then."

Sanders' mother said her daughter had talked recently of becoming a full-time Army soldier on active duty once her reservist contract had been fulfilled. She was considering buying a home. And she looked forward to more trips abroad and had been studying Italian in anticipation of someday visiting Italy.

"All of these different things that she had plans for, you know, were just cut short in the blink of an eye," Oneida Sanders said. "I just feel like somebody like her, that's so full of life, it's just unfair that she'll never get to realize those dreams that she had."

Shawn Sanders called the attack that took his daughter's life "a senseless act of violence."

President Joe Biden has promised that the U.S. will respond. Shawn Sanders said he's confident Biden will make an appropriate decision. Asked what he thinks would be the correct response, the grieving father declined to say.

"Out of anger for losing a child," he said, "I just can't."

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