Military News

Families struggle to understand insider killings of soldiers

Just days before the insider attack in which he was killed, Pfc. Jon Townsend sent flowers to his young wife, Brittany.

The 19-year-old Joint Base Lewis-McChord cavalryman wanted to remind her that he’d be home from Afghanistan within two months or so. He was like that; he sent her flowers all the time.

The couple started dating when he was a high school senior in Claremore, Okla., and she was a junior. They quickly fell in love and stayed committed when he left for basic training, then his assignment south of Tacoma.

“I didn’t think I could fall in love with someone so fast, and it just happened,” Brittany Townsend said.

The couple had planned to marry that May during Townsend’s home leave from Afghanistan. But his leave was pushed up to February, and Brittany would not be 18 for another three months.

Townsend had pestered her parents, pleading with them for permission to marry their daughter on his early leave.

“He had every excuse in the world,” her mother, Nancy Carden of Claremore, remembered. “He would always come up with a different excuse why they should be married” when he called from Afghanistan.

The Cardens consented and surprised the soldier by preparing the wedding for that February. Brittany said her fiance was so happy that he cried more than she did. They planned to go on their honeymoon at the end of Jon’s deployment.

“They were going to make it work,” Nancy Carden said. “They were little soulmates.”

She said she’s read the Army investigation of her son-in-law’s death three times, to try to make sense of what happened. She still has questions.

“When you read the incident report, you’re hearing different stories,” Nancy Carden said. “It’s almost like I want to talk to one of the survivors who was there.”

Other relatives of the four fallen Americans can’t bear to have so much detail.

In North Carolina, Brian Nelson has not been able to bring himself to read the documents he received from the Army. His main question centers on why his son, Spc. Joshua Nelson, was with the cavalry unit in the first place.

Nelson, 22, had trained as a communications specialist at Fort Gordon, Ga., and joined the Lewis-McChord soldiers in Afghanistan.

The younger Nelson repeatedly assured his father he was out of harm’s way.

“They told him to go to another outpost somewhere he wasn’t supposed to go, but they feel like he needed to be there,” Brian Nelson said.

The day he found out his son was dead, the casualty assistance officers wanted to make him feel better in his grief, but there was not much they could say.

“They said the Afghans just turned on them, and started shooting them. In a situation like that, there is no sensible way to say it,” he said.

Spc. Nelson left behind a young wife, Quamisha.

Another victim of the attack, Pfc. Genaro Bedoy, had just started a family with his wife, Patty. She brought their baby daughter, Sofia, to memorials at Lewis-McChord last fall and winter.

In Oklahoma, Townsend’s family say they think about the fallen soldier all the time. Brittany is working. She has put off her plans for college for a little while.

She kept the last flowers her husband sent her.

“Be strong and keep the faith, baby. Love your husband,” said the card that came with them.

“That’s what she’s trying to do,” Nancy Carden said. “Be strong, keep the faith.”