Updated: August 9, 2012 at 12:00 am
A suicide attack struck at the heart of Fort Carson’s 4th Brigade Combat Team in Afghanistan, killing the brigade’s top enlisted soldier and one of the brigade's majors. An airman assigned to Fort Carson was also killed in the attack.
Command Sgt. Maj. Kevin J. Griffin, a 23-year veteran of the Army and the right-hand man to the brigade’s commander, died Wednesday when two insurgents detonated vests laden with explosives in Kunar province. He was 45.
Maj. Thomas E. Kennedy, 35, and Air Force Maj. Walter D. Gray, 38 — whose unit helped coordinate air combat forces with troops on the ground — also died in the blasts, marking the deadliest attack against Fort Carson troops since October 2010.
“It’s a big blow to everybody,” said Maj. Earl Brown, a 4th Infantry Division spokesman. “We really hate to have something like this happen. Our hearts and prayers go out to their families.
“This is a heavy loss.”
It was unclear whether any other soldiers were injured, although Brown said that 4th Brigade commander Col. James Mingus, who was to attend the meeting, was not injured.
Griffin is the most senior enlisted Fort Carson soldier to die in Iraq or Afghanistan, Brown said.
The men were walking to a meeting with Afghan officials and tribal chiefs, provincial officials told The Washington Post. At least one Afghan civilian died in the blasts and three were wounded, The Associated Press reported.
A father of two, Griffin grew up in Riverton, Wyo., with three brothers and two sisters — gaining a reputation as a gifted athlete who “was always an adventure,” said his brother Shawn Griffin. They rode bikes and fished in the rural town of about 10,000 people — a place where Kevin Griffin eventually won the Wyoming state wrestling championship.
He later found his calling in the Army, garnering a lengthy list of awards and commendations including the Bronze Star.
Kevin Griffin was on his sixth overseas deployment, having served one tour each in Kuwait and the Balkans, along with three deployments to Iraq.
“He loved his wife and his kids, and that was his life — that and the military,” Shawn Griffin said.
“It’s hard to believe it happened. It’s a risk that he knew about. He was doing what he wanted to do ... As far as how we’re doing, it’s just devastating. There are times where you can just cry about it, and there are times where people get together and you just share some stories. I think it’s all just so brand new still.”
Maj. Korey Brown, the brigade’s rear detachment commander, called Griffin a “soldier’s soldier” who “loved the Army.
Although he had only recently met Kennedy, Korey Brown said others widely respected the 12-year veteran.
“He’s a great asset to the brigade, and an outstanding officer,” he said.
Kennedy, of West Point, N.Y., joined the Army in 2000 and also received the Bronze Star. He was on his third deployment, having deployed twice to Iraq.
Family members could not be reached for comment.
Gray served as air liaison officer and flight commander attached to Fort Carson through the 93rd Air Ground Operations Wing at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia.
In Afghanistan, he worked to coordinate air combat forces with ground troops.
“I’m still in a daze,” his father, James Gray, said from his home in Loganville, Ga. “It’s still hard.”
Walter Gray was the youngest of two brothers born 11 months apart — a boy who always seemed to avoid trouble, James Gray said.
“One time I had to force him to stay home because he was sick,” James Gray said. “He wanted to go.”
His brother, Ronnie Gray, remembers a slightly different childhood growing up on 5 acres in the town 25 miles outside of Atlanta.
“Just know that we had a lot of fun,” said Ronnie Gray, refusing to divulge more than a laugh. “We were really good about not getting caught.”
They were often confused for twins — his parents reluctantly held Walter Gray back a year to ensure that the two weren’t in the same grade, Ronnie Gray said. Ronnie played cornerback on the football team. Walter lined up at receiver.
Every play proved entertaining.
“I would never admit that he won, but he won,” Ronnie Gray said.
He also had a younger half sister.
After two years as an enlisted airman, Walter Gray attended college at Charleston Southern University.
He graduated and received his commission, becoming one of the first air liaison officers, according to the Air Force.
And he married a girl named Heather, whom he met at the university. They had three children, two girls and a boy.
The blast brings to seven the number of 4th Brigade soldiers killed since the “Warrior” brigade deployed in March to eastern Afghanistan, a rugged, mountainous region bordering Pakistan.
Since 2003, 78 Fort Carson soldiers have died in Afghanistan and another 258 have died in Iraq.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The spelling of Gray's hometown has been corrected. Also, the first paragraph has been changed to clarify the units to which each man was assigned.
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