In a U.S. Army photo, Bradley Fighting Vehicles are driven to a range at Fort Stewart, Ga., March 21, 2018. Three soldiers were killed and three others injured Sunday when the Bradley they were riding in rolled over into water during a training exercise at Fort Stewart. Calab Franklin/U.S. Army via The New York Times
Photo: CALAB FRANKLIN/U.S. ARMY
Photo: CALAB FRANKLIN/U.S. ARMY

Military identifies three troops killed in accident at Fort Stewart

Vehicle rolled off bridge and became submerged in stream

The U.S. military on Monday identified the three soldiers killed early Sunday morning in a training accident at Fort Stewart, disclosing they were killed when the Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle they were riding rolled off a bridge and became submerged — upside down — in a stream.

The soldiers are: Pfc. Antonio Gilbert Garcia, 21, of Phoenix, Ariz., Sgt. 1st Class Bryan Andrew Jenkins, 41, of Gainesville, Fla.; and Cpl. Thomas Cole Walker, 22, of Conneaut, Ohio.

Three other soldiers were injured in the single-vehicle accident at about 3:20 a.m. Sunday, said Maj. Gen. Tony Aguto, commanding general of the 3rd Infantry Division. Two of the wounded have been treated and released. A third was hospitalized in Savannah in stable condition without life-threatening injuries Monday.

“It is hard enough when you lose one soldier,” Aguto said. “But when you lose three at one time, that pain is amplified. And we are really feeling and sharing that pain across the division and across our entire community.”

Military records show Jenkins’ active basic military service began just three days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and that he did two tours in Iraq between 2005 and 2008. A memorial service will be held for him, Garcia and Walker soon, Aguto said.

The troops were training for a deployment to the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif. in February. That training at Fort Stewart will continue, Aguto said, though the military will study how to prevent more such accidents.

“We will take those lessons and incorporate them as needed, but it is a little too early to tell right now what could affect the training or how we do it,” he said.

Also Monday, U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command confirmed it has launched an investigation of the incident. A spokesman for the command said the probe is standard procedure for such deaths and does not necessarily indicate criminal wrongdoing is suspected.

“Regardless of what the initial circumstances are, we do a full-fledged investigation,” said Chris Grey, a spokesman for the command, who added that such probes generally take months to complete. “Every case is different. We try to get to the truth. We know time is important, but we follow the evidence.”

Sunday’s incident represents at least the third fatal military vehicle rollover involving Georgians this year.

On Jan. 14, Spc. Octavious Deshon Lakes Jr., 22, of Buford died from injuries he sustained in a Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle rollover during a training exercise at Fort Irwin, Calif. Three others were injured.

And on June 6, Christopher J. Morgan, 22, a U.S. Military Academy cadet from West Orange, N.J., died in a training accident involving a Light Medium Tactical Vehicle near Camp Natural Bridge in Highland Mills, N.Y. Two soldiers and 19 other cadets were wounded.

Staff Sgt. Ladonies P. Strong, who is assigned to a unit from Fort Benning, was charged with several violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, including involuntary manslaughter, negligent homicide, dereliction of duty and reckless operation of a vehicle following a U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command probe. A preliminary hearing on the matter is scheduled for Wednesday at Fort Stewart.

Nearly three quarters of the 16,652 U.S. troops who were killed since 2006 died from non-combat related incidents known as “non-overseas contingency operations,” according to a May 20 Congressional Research Service report. The largest share — 4,827 — died in accidents.

In December of 2017, Sgt. Michael T. Trask, 31, of Olalla, Wash., died from gunshot wounds he suffered during a live-fire training exercise at Fort Stewart. U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command issued a report saying there was “no indication that any criminal act occurred,” according to records obtained under the federal Freedom of Information Act. Trask was at least the second soldier to be killed during such training at the coastal Georgia military installation since 2015.

A team from the U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center at Fort Rucker, Ala., has joined the 3rd Infantry Division in investigating Sunday’s incident at Fort Stewart. The center said its “investigators are trained to look across the spectrum of possible contributing factors, including human factors, environmental and materiel.”

U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, R-Pooler, whose district includes Fort Stewart, is also looking into what happened.

“Our office has been in touch with the 3rd ID and with the Department of Defense,” he said. “Yes, we are going to have to have answers. There is no question about that.”

AJC staff writers Matt Kempner and Helena Oliviero contributed to this report.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.

X