RALEIGH - Three members of the North Carolina Army National Guard were among 14 people killed when a Taliban suicide bomber rammed a motorcycle packed with explosives into a joint U.S.-Afghan patrol in Afghanistan.
The remains of Sgt. Donna R. Johnson, 29, of Raeford, Sgt. Jeremy F. Hardison, 23, of Browns Summit and Sgt. Thomas J. Butler IV, 25, of Leland, were flown into Dover Air Force Base Tuesday evening.
The three died Monday in Khost, Afghanistan, after an insurgent detonated a suicide vest while the guardsmen were on patrol. The soldiers were assigned to the 514th Military Police Company, which is based in Winterville.
The bomber struck about 9 a.m., shortly after the troops got out of their vehicles to walk through a market area in Khost, located in the eastern part of the country.
The others killed included an Afghan translator working with the American troops, four local police officers and six civilians.
Three more American soldiers were wounded, according to a military spokesman. About 60 Afghan civilians were also injured.
A Taliban spokesman contacted Western media to claim responsibility shortly after the attack.
"We are still grieving for these soldiers, their families and their unit members still carrying on with their mission," said Maj. Gen. Gregory A. Lusk, adjutant general of the North Carolina National Guard. "They were the embodiment of citizen soldiers who put everything on hold to go in harm's way for all of us. They will be remembered and sorely missed."
Johnson, 29, joined the guard in August 2006 and was deployed to Iraq in 2007.
Hardison, 23, entered the military in May 2006 and deployed to Iraq in 2009. He is survived by a wife.
Butler, 25, joined in June 2007 and was on his first combat deployment. He was a married father.
The names of those wounded and their medical condition has not been released.
The 514th left North Carolina for training at Fort Bliss, Texas, in June and departed for Afghanistan in early August.
Funeral arrangements for the soldiers have not yet been completed.
The close contact patrols, with coalition forces working side by side with Afghan troops as advisers, mentors and trainer, are a key part of the U.S. strategy for putting the Afghans in the lead as it and other nations prepare to pull out their last combat troops by the end of 2014.
As part of that drawdown, the first 33,000 U.S. troops withdrew by the end of September, leaving 68,000 still in Afghanistan. NATO currently has 108,000 troops in Afghanistan including U.S. forces, down from nearly 150,000 at its peak last year.
Monday's attack followed more American casualties over the weekend that pushed the U.S. military's death toll for the 11-year-war above 2,000.