Army Reserve soldiers, close friends killed in drone attack, mourned at funerals in Georgia

Feb 17, 2024, 1:02 PM

FILE - This combination of photos provided by Shawn Sanders, left, and the U.S. Army, center and ri...

FILE - This combination of photos provided by Shawn Sanders, left, and the U.S. Army, center and right, show from left to right, Sgt. Kennedy Sanders, Staff Sgt. William Jerome Rivers and Sgt. Breonna Alexsondria Moffett. The three U.S. Army Reserve soldiers from Georgia, all of whom received posthumous promotions in rank, were killed by a drone strike on Jan. 28, 2024, on their base in Jordan near the Syrian border. The first funeral service was scheduled Tuesday morning, Feb. 13, for Rivers at a Baptist church in Carrollton, west of Atlanta. (Shawn Sanders and U.S. Army via AP, File)

(Shawn Sanders and U.S. Army via AP, File)

WAYCROSS, Ga. (AP) — Two young citizen-soldiers who became close friends after enlisting in the Army Reserve were remembered at funerals in southeast Georgia on Saturday, nearly three weeks after they died in a drone attack while deployed to the Middle East.

A service for 24-year-old Sgt. Kennedy Sanders was held in the packed 1,200-seat auditorium of Ware County Middle School in Waycross.

Fellow soldiers recalled Sanders’ courage, her loving personality, and her willingness to volunteer for tasks few wanted to do, including learning to operate earth-moving equipment to help build roads and shelters, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

“Behind her smile was a fierce determination,” Col. Jeffrey Dulgarian said during the service, adding that she “tackled her responsibility with vigor and skill.”

Sanders’ former basketball coach, Mandy Lingenfelter, remembered Sanders as a point guard for Ware County High’s Lady Gators.

“It was hard for me to yell at her,” Lingenfelter said, “because she was always smiling. … She had pure joy. She put Jesus first, others second and herself last.”

A similar welcome marked the final homecoming for Sgt. Breonna Moffett, 23, in Savannah. Moffett’s funeral at a Baptist church was scheduled for the same time Saturday as Sanders’ service 100 miles (161 kilometers) away. Moffett’s family requested that media not be present.

The soldiers were among three members of their Army Reserve unit who died Jan. 28 in a drone strike on a U.S. base in Jordan near the Syrian border. Also killed was Staff Sgt. William Jerome Rivers, 46, who was buried Tuesday following a church service in Carrollton.

The military awarded all three soldiers promotions in rank after their deaths. They were assigned to the 926th Engineer Battalion, 926th Engineer Brigade, based at Fort Moore in west Georgia.

According to the Army Reserve, Moffett and Sanders both enlisted in 2019 as construction engineers who use bulldozers and other heavy equipment to clear roads and construction sites.

By the time they deployed to the Middle East last year, the two had become close friends. Moffett’s mother, Francine Moffett, said that whenever the family would call her daughter, they typically would hear from Sanders too.

When she wasn’t serving in uniform, Moffett worked in Savannah for United Cerebral Palsy of Georgia, helping teach cooking and other skills to people with disabilities. She joined the Army Reserve after graduating from Windsor Forest High School, where she had been a drum major and JROTC cadet. She was killed just days after her 23rd birthday.

Sanders came from Waycross on the edge of the Okefenokee Swamp and worked at a local pharmacy. The former high school athlete helped coach children’s basketball and soccer teams in her spare time. Her mother, Oneida Oliver-Sanders, said the last time they spoke, her daughter talked of wanting to buy a motorcycle when she came home.

The deaths of the three Georgia reservists were the first U.S. fatalities blamed on Iran-backed militia groups after months of intensified attacks on American forces in the region since the Israel-Hamas war began in October.

More than 40 troops were also injured in the drone attack at Tower 22, a secretive U.S. military desert outpost that enables U.S. forces to infiltrate and quietly leave Syria.

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Army Reserve soldiers, close friends killed in drone attack, mourned at funerals in Georgia