SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP) — Described by their parents as bubbly and constantly laughing, Spc. Kennedy Sanders and Spc. Breonna Moffett became close friends soon after enlisting in the Army Reserve five years ago. Sgt. William Jerome Rivers served a tour in Iraq before joining the same company of Army engineers.
The three citizen-soldiers from different corners of Georgia all died in a weekend drone strike on a U.S. base in Jordan near the Syrian border that also wounded more than 40 others. Families of the slain reservists said they were shocked when uniformed military officers came to their doors to deliver the news Sunday.
While President Joe Biden has promised the U.S. will respond, Moffett's parents said they hope there's no escalation in violence that kills more American troops. Their daughter celebrated her 23rd birthday overseas just nine days before she was killed.
“I just hope and pray no other family has to go through this,” Francine Moffett, the young soldier's mother, said Monday through tears at the dining table of her Savannah home. "It takes your heart and your soul.”
Breonna Moffitt joined the Army Reserve in 2019 after graduating from high school. In addition to her military service, she worked for a home care provider cooking, cleaning and running errands for people with disabilities, her parents said. When Moffett left with fellow soldiers from the 718th Engineer Company, 926th Engineer Battalion based at Fort Moore in August, it was her first overseas deployment.
She was the oldest of four siblings. Every morning, Francine Moffett said, her 8-year-old daughter would call her big sister to say hello while riding to school.
Whenever the Moffett family called, they typically would hear from Sanders too.
“Every time I’d call Breonna, I'd see Sanders just stick her head in and say, `Hey! How you doing?'” Francine Moffett said.
A native of Waycross, 100 miles (160 kilometers) southwest of Savannah, 24-year-old Sanders had volunteered for the Middle East deployment, eager to see a new part of the world, her parents said.
At home, she helped coach children's soccer and basketball teams. She also worked at a pharmacy while taking college courses with the aim of becoming an X-ray technician. Lately, however, she had considered becoming a full-time soldier on active duty once her Army Reserve contract was fulfilled.
“She was loved. She didn’t have any enemies. All the time you saw her smiling,” her 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.”
At age 46, Rivers had far more military experience than the two young women. The Defense Department said he joined the Army Reserve in New Jersey in 2011 and served a nine-month tour in Iraq in 2018. He joined the 718th Engineering Company at Fort Moore last year and lived in Carrollton, about 45 miles (70 kilometers) west of Atlanta.
The Associated Press was unsuccessful in attempts to contact Rivers' family on Monday.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp issued a statement mourning the “inexcusable loss of life” of the three soldiers, saying they “gave the last full measure of devotion in service to this country.” Army Brig. Gen. Todd Lazaroski, commander of the Army Reserve's 412th Theater Engineer Command, said in a statement: “They represent the best of America.”
In Sanders' hometown of Waycross, flags were lowered to half-staff. Her parents said her unit first deployed to Kuwait, then to 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 called home almost daily, her parents said. While she occasionally mentioned drones being shot down nearby, there was no sense of imminent danger, said Oneida Oliver-Sanders, the reservist's mother.
When they last spoke the day before she was killed, Sanders said she was thinking about buying a motorcycle — much to her mother's disapproval. She had also spoken recently of buying a home.
“All of these different things that she had plans for, you know, were just cut short in the blink of an eye,” Oliver-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.”