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Navy Lt. Florence B. Choe

Died March 27, 2009 Serving During Operation Enduring Freedom

35, of El Cajon, Calif.; died March 27 when an Afghan National Army soldier opened fire on personnel assigned to Combined Security Transition Command — Afghanistan at Camp Shaheen, Mazar-E-Sharif, Afghanistan. Also killed was Navy Lt. j.g. Francis L. Toner IV.

Afghan soldier’s slaying of 2 officers stuns base

By Andrew Tilghman

Staff writer

Lt. j.g. Francis “Frankie” Toner and Lt. Florence Bacong Choe were taking a Friday afternoon jog along a well-worn path on the outskirts of Forward Operating Base Shaheen in Afghanistan.

Then an Afghan Army soldier raised his military-issued weapon and fatally shot the two officers. A third Navy officer was also wounded in the shootings, said Air Force Capt. Elizabeth Mathias, a spokeswoman for U.S. Forces in Afghanistan.

The Afghan soldier fatally shot himself moments after the killings, Mathias said.

The shooting stunned the sailors and soldiers living on the base, who are there to “mentor” the Afghan troops.

“I really hope that this incident doesn’t just pass as two more service members killed in Afghanistan. I want everyone to know how they died and why,” said Lt. Michael Lucrezio, a medical service corps officer assigned to the base.

“The simple fact is that they were murdered in cold blood. The guy who shot them wasn’t some random bad guy who snuck on base wearing a stolen uniform; he was an army soldier who had been vetted through the [Afghan National Army] recruiting process and trained to their basic standards,” Lucrezio said in an e-mail to Navy Times after the shooting.

Afghan officials expressed condolences for the deaths. Afghan Minister of Defense Abdul Rahim Wardak said he was “saddened and deeply regretful this tragedy occurred,” and that the incident was under investigation, according to a military press release.

Meanwhile, back at home, a Navy chaplain and senior chief knocked on the door at the Toner’s family home in Rhode Island to relay news of the 26-year-old Seabee’s death.

“The irony is that he loved those people,” Sharon Toner, the officer’s stepmother, said of Toner in an interview. “His heart just went out to the children over there because they weren’t in school and they didn’t have shoes. The poverty over there really hit him hard.”

Toner’s family had expected him home for leave the following week, his stepmother said.

Toner was assigned to Naval Facility Hawaii at Pearl Harbor, where he lived with his wife, Brooke. He was on a one-year deployment to Afghanistan to help oversee reconstruction projects in an area north of the capital.

Choe, 35, was a medical service corps officer assigned to Naval Medical Center in San Diego, where she lived with her husband, Lt. Cmdr. Chong “Jay” Choe, a urology resident at the hospital, and their 3-year-old daughter, according to a statement from the hospital.

She was born at the same hospital while her father was a career sailor, said Sonja Hanson, a spokeswoman for the hospital.

Choe contacted a Navy recruiter just days after Sept. 11, 2001, Hanson said. She also was on a one-year deployment in Afghanistan, where she helped run the medical station that served U.S. troops as well as Afghan troops and civilians, Mathias said.

Choe’s family declined requests for an interview, Hanson said.

The Toner family is planning a memorial service at the Merchant Marine Academy on Long Island, N.Y., where Toner earned his bachelor’s degree in 2006, his stepmother said.

Toner was voted prom king at his high school and played football in college, his family said. He sought a Navy career immediately after his graduation.

“He was going to do a full 20 years. His long-term goal was to someday work at the Pentagon. He loved, loved the Navy, loved the Seabees and he never had any thoughts about doing anything else,” his stepmother said.

Sharon Toner said her stepson’s death was a “freak event.”

“I don’t see that as a reflection on the Afghan people. In America we have people right here — you read it in the newspaper every day, people murdering other people and doing things like that. That doesn’t reflect on the society as a whole,” she said.

Officer ‘always had a smile on her face’

The Associated Press

Lt. Florence B. Choe was serving as a medical administration and logistics mentor to the Afghan National Army.

“She was a professional naval officer who was extremely smart and extremely pleasant,” said Sonja Hanson, a hospital spokeswoman who knew Lt. Choe.

Choe, 35, of El Cajon, Calif., was killed March 27 when an insurgent posing as an Afghan National Army soldier opened fire.

She was based at the Naval Medical Center San Diego, where she was born.

She earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of California at San Diego in 1997, and a master’s degree in public health and health care administration in 2001 from San Diego State University. She was commissioned as a Medical Service Corps member in the Navy on Feb. 21, 2002.

“She always had a smile on her face, and everyone admired her. All of us at the Naval Medical Center are proud of her, and we are grieving for her,” said Hanson.

She is survived by her husband, Lt. Cmdr. Chong “Jay” Choe, a urology resident at the medical center, and her daughter, Kristin, 3.

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