Wounded soldier becomes 5th to die after Afghan ambush

McClatchy NewspapersOctober 9, 2009 

U.S. Army Sgt. Kenneth W. Westbrook, of Colorado Springs, Colo., fires at insurgents who trapped Afghan security forces and U.S. military trainers in a massive ambush Sept. 8, 2009, as they were approaching the village of Ganjgal. Westbrook was badly wounded in the neck shortly after this photograph was taken. He died later at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. (Jonathan S. Landay / MCT)

JONATHAN S. LANDAY / MCT

WASHINGTON -- An ambush in a remote part of eastern Afghanistan that raised questions about the whether U.S. troops had enough artillery, air support and intelligence has claimed a fifth U.S. service member.

Sgt. 1st Class Kenneth Westbrook, 41, of Colorado Springs, Colo., died Wednesday at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.

McClatchy wrote about Westbrook in an article about the Sept. 8 ambush. A reporter helped carry the wounded Westbrook onto a helicopter shortly after a gunshot pierced his right cheek and went through his neck.

The troops were killed in what was supposed to be an uneventful patrol to meet local elders. Instead, they waited more than an hour for air support after an attack began, and nearly ran out of artillery. Nine Afghans were killed and 20 U.S. and Afghan troops were wounded in the ambush.

Capt. Will Swenson, of Seattle, and McClatchy reporter Jonathan S. Landay cared for Westbrook after he was shot.

"Westbrook lay on his back as Swenson, his friend and boss, pressed a field dressing to his neck," Landay wrote. "With his other hand, Swenson called the locations of insurgents into his radio. He then would take time to calm Westbrook, telling him that his wound wasn't fatal and trying to bolster his spirits by teasing him that he was being overly dramatic. ... We held onto Westbrook's uniform as we manhandled him up the wall through the clouds of stinging debris. Then soldiers appeared at the top. They grabbed him and carried him to the helicopter."

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said this week that an internal investigation into the ambush hadn't been completed.

Westbrook, who belonged to the 1st Infantry Division of Fort Riley, Kan., was in his last combat tour before he was to retire after a 22-year Army career.

The sergeant, whose father also served in the Army, was born at Fort Riley. His brother, Alan, died in Iraq in 2005 while serving in the National Guard.

Westbrook met his future wife, Charlene, in Shiprock, N.M., when he was 13 and he told her on their first meeting that he'd be a soldier. He served in the 1991 Persian Gulf War and in Baghdad in 2007.

Westbrook wanted to retire and spend more time with his three sons, Zachary, 20, Joshua, 18, and Joseph, 14. He wanted to fish and hunt, his favorite pastimes. The military said he had to go to Afghanistan instead, however. He arrived last November and was supposed to come home next month.

"He was going to drop off his retirement papers as soon as he got back," Charlene Westbrook said. "The boys were growing up so fast. Every time he would return, he would apologize to them. 'Boys, just give me time. I am going to retire soon.' "

Within days of Westbrook's arrival at Walter Reed on Sept. 11, Charlene Westbrook and her children were certain he'd recover. He was laughing, joking, smiling and asking the hospital staff to sneak him a beer.

When he first arrived, "He could see I was there. I told him I loved him. He told me, 'I love you.' He said, 'Be strong,' " Charlene Westbrook said. "He just knew he was going to get better."

Days later he was transferred to intensive care, where his health deteriorated.

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Check out McClatchy's national security blog, Nukes & Spooks

McClatchy Newspapers 2009

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