From left, Army Sgt. William Jerome Rivers, Spc. Kennedy Ladon Sanders, and Spc. Breonna Alexsondria Moffett. (U.S. Army)
ATLANTA — The three U.S. service members killed in a one-way drone strike in Jordan were Army reservists from Georgia, the Pentagon said Monday.
Sgt. William Jerome Rivers, Spc. Kennedy Ladon Sanders and Spc. Breonna Alexsondria Moffett were killed in the strike on the small base in northeast Jordan known as Tower 22, according to the Pentagon. The soldiers were assigned to the 718th Engineer Company, 926th Engineer Battalion from the 926th Engineer Brigade based at Fort Moore, Ga.
Rivers, 46, was from Carrollton, Ga.; Sanders, 24, was from Waycross, Ga.; and Moffett, 23, was from Savannah, Ga. Pentagon officials said the three soldiers were killed when the attack drone struck their container housing quarters early Sunday morning.
The soldiers’ deaths have “left an indelible mark on the United States Army Reserve,” said Lt. Gen. Jody Daniels, the Army Reserve’s top general. “I share in the sorrow felt by their friends, family and loved ones. Their service and sacrifice will not be forgotten, and we are committed to supporting those left behind in the wake of this tragedy.”
Pentagon officials said an Iran-backed militia was responsible for the drone strike. Pentagon spokeswoman Sabrina Singh declined to say specifically which militia launched the drone but said it was one backed by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, an elite unit of Iran’s armed forces that supports terrorist groups and anti-American militants in Iraq and Syria.
The drone struck Tower 22, a logistics support base in Jordan, along the Syrian border, where U.S. forces support the decade-old Operation Inherent Resolve, a mission to ensure the defeat of Islamic State.
U.S. Central Command in a statement Sunday said approximately 350 U.S. Army and Air Force troops were deployed to the base.
An investigation was ongoing into how the drone was able to evade U.S. air defenses used to protect forces on the Jordan base, Singh said.
The al-Tanf military outpost in southern Syria is seen on Oct. 22, 2018. Three American troops were killed and dozens more were injured in an overnight drone strike at Tower 22 in northeast Jordan near the Syrian border. (Lolita Baldor/AP)
Initial reports indicate that as the enemy drone was flying in at a low altitude, a U.S. drone was also returning to the small desert installation and might have been let pass by mistake, according to a preliminary conclusion first reported by The Wall Street Journal. As a result, there was no effort to shoot down the enemy drone that hit the outpost, the newspaper reported.
Singh vowed a response “in a time and place of our choosing.” She said the United States holds Iran responsible for the Sunday attack and 164 other assaults on U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria since Oct. 7, when Hamas militants attacked Israelis, launching a new war in Gaza and raising tensions across the Middle East.
“We know that Iran is behind it,” Singh said. “Iran continues to arm and equip these groups to launch these attacks, and we will continue to hold them responsible. … They fund and train and support and equip these militias that operate in Iraq and Syria.”
Iran denied involvement in the Sunday attack.
“Resistance groups in the region do not take orders from the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Foreign Ministry Spokesman Nasser Kanaani said Monday, according to Bloomberg news.
At least 40 other American service members were injured in the strike, she said. That number could rise as troops are evaluated for injuries, including traumatic brain injuries, Singh added.
Eight service members required evacuation from Jordan to the Baghdad Diplomatic Support Center, Singh said. Three are scheduled for imminent transport to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, she said. Five have been assessed for mild traumatic brain injuries and are expected to return to duty.
The fallen soldiers deployed late last year in support of Operation Inherent Resolve with their unit, which had split time between Kuwait and Jordan, an Army official said. The soldiers were expecting to return home in the summer.
Rivers was the longest tenured of the three fallen soldiers, enlisting in the service in 2011 as an interior electrician, according to the Army. He served a previous nine-month deployment to Iraq in 2018, also in support of OIR.
His awards and decorations included the Army Achievement Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon, two Army Reserve Component Overseas Training Ribbons, Armed Forces Reserve Medal with “M” Device and the Inherent Resolve Campaign Medal with Campaign Star.
Sanders enlisted in the Army in 2019 as a horizontal construction engineer, according to the service. Like Rivers, she was on her second overseas deployment, after serving an eight-month rotation in 2021 in Djibouti.
Army Spc. Kennedy Sanders, right, posing for a selfie with her mother, Oneida Oliver-Sanders, at a ceremony in Columbus, Ga., on Aug. 9, 2023. (Shawn Sanders via AP)
Her awards and decorations include the National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon and the Armed Forces Reserve Medal with “M” Device.
In Sanders hometown of Waycross in southeast Georgia on Monday, officials ordered flags to be flown at half-staff in her honor.
“The City [of Waycross] is deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Kennedy Ladon Sanders, who gave her life in service to our country,” the Waycross government wrote in a statement. “We offer our heartfelt condolences to her family and friends during this difficult time.”
Moffett was on her first deployment, according to the Army. She enlisted in the service in 2019 as a horizontal construction engineer. Her awards include the National Defense Service Medal and the Army Service Ribbon.
Moffett was a former drum major at Savannah’s Windsor Forest High School, according to the school’s band program.
In a message posted to the Windsor Forest Mighty Marching Knights Facebook page, the program asked supporters to “spam green hearts” in Moffett’s honor.
“We will forever remember Breonna Moffet … as a Knight and a service woman in the U.S. Army,” the post read.