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Army Pfc. Austin G. Staggs

Died November 29, 2010 Serving During Operation Enduring Freedom

19, of Senoia, Ga.; assigned to 1st Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), Fort Campbell, Ky.; died Nov. 29 in Pachir Wa Agam district, Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, of wounds sustained when an insurgent attacked his unit with small-arms fire. Also killed were Sgt. 1st Class Barry E. Jarvis, Staff Sgt. Curtis A. Oakes, Spc. Matthew W. Ramsey, Pfc. Jacob A. Gassen and Pfc. Buddy W. McLain.

Remains of 6 killed by Afghan policeman come home

By Anne Gearan

The Associated Press

DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. — Several of President Barack Obama’s top national security advisers stood on a silent, windy tarmac Wednesday night to watch as the bodies of six soldiers killed by a rogue Afghan policeman returned to U.S. soil.

The six were killed in Afghanistan on Monday when the border policeman turned his gun on his American trainers as the group headed to shooting practice. The gunman was killed in the shootout in Nangarhar province near the Pakistan border.

The Taliban claimed responsibility, saying the officer had enlisted as a sleeper agent to have an opportunity to kill foreigners.

The only sound during the “dignified transfer” was of the wind blowing through the 747 jet engines as the flag-topped caskets, called transfer cases, were lowered to the ground. Teams of white-gloved pallbearers carried each casket to a waiting truck. Fathers, mothers, wives and other family members of five of the soldiers traveled to Dover for Wednesday’s return.

The dead are Sgt. Barry E. Jarvis of Tell City, Ind.; Pfc. Jacob A. Gassen of Beaver Dam, Wis.; Pfc. Buddy W. McLain of Mexico, Maine; Spc. Matthew W. Ramsey of Quartz Hill, Calif.; Pfc. Austin G. Staggs of Senoia, Ga., and Staff Sgt. Curtis A. Oakes of Athens, Ohio.

Marine Gen. James Cartwright, who is the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, led a delegation of U.S. officials to pay respects. The unusually large group that flew from Washington included National Security Adviser Tom Donilon and several senior National Security Council advisers. Defense Undersecretary Michele Flournoy and Treasury Undersecretary Stuart Levey and several senior Pentagon officers also attended.

The soldiers’ bodies were flown together from Germany to Dover Air Force Base, where they will be formally identified at an Air Force mortuary. Within days the dead will be returned to their families for burial.

Families may choose whether to attend the brief, solemn ceremony beside the plane that brings the bodies home. Those who attend stand separately from the official party paying respects and from the news media.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates ended an 18-year ban on media coverage of the returns last year.

The families of Jarvis, Gassen and McLain allowed media to watch and photograph the transfer of caskets Wednesday.

The attack was the deadliest of its kind in at least two years. It underscored one of the risks in a U.S.-led program to train enough recruits to turn over the lead for security to Afghan forces by 2014.

Attacks on NATO troops by Afghan policemen or soldiers, although still rare, have increased as the coalition has accelerated the program. Other problems with the rapidly growing security forces include drug use, widespread illiteracy and high rates of attrition.

This is the deadliest year of the 9-year-old conflict in Afghanistan, with more than 450 U.S. troops killed. More than 1,300 U.S. forces have died there since the war began in 2001, a majority of them in the past two years as fighting has intensified and Obama ordered more than 30,000 reinforcements.

The U.S. now has about 100,000 troops in Afghanistan, a record. Obama plans to begin withdrawing some forces in July, on the way to an eventual transfer of security control to the Afghan forces now being recruited and trained under U.S. and NATO supervision.

‘He was the most big-hearted kid you’ve ever met’

The Associated Press

Austin Staggs’ nieces and nephews would push each other out of the way to talk to their uncle on Skype, hoping to be the first in front of the screen, said Staggs’ stepmother, Kelly Dunavin.

Staggs was looking forward to seeing his family again on his birthday, Jan. 11 — which would have been 1-11-11, his grandmother, Marion Buckner, told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

“He was the most big-hearted kid you’ve ever met,” Staggs’ father, Byram Staggs, told The Dallas Morning News.

Staggs, 19, of Senoia, Ga., was among six soldiers killed by an Afghan police trainee in Nangarhar province, Afghanistan. He was assigned to Fort Campbell, Ky. He graduated from North Hills Private School in Millsap, Texas, in 2008.

The soldier and his wife, Sheena, have a 2-year-old son, Kallen.

Buckner said Staggs had tried to call his mother on Thanksgiving but had to leave a message. His mother and stepfather were out doing one of Staggs’ own favorite things to do when he was home: hunting. He also enjoyed fishing.

His mother was devastated that she missed the call, but Buckner said she comforted her: “You’ve got his voice on your phone now. You can listen to him anytime you want.”

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