In October, Staff Sgt. Chester J. McBride Jr. stood in front of 95 Statesboro High School players and delivered a simple message.
Trust that those with authority over you have your best interest at heart, he told the teens from his alma mater, and make the most of every opportunity you’re given. Choose your friends carefully. More than anything, be good — to yourself, to others, to the world.
“Boy howdy,” Statesboro head coach Steve Pennington said Wednesday. “Is his message even louder and clearer today than it was then.”
McBride was one of six airmen killed Monday in a suicide bombing near Afghanistan’s Bagram Air Base, about 25 miles north of Kabul. He was 30 years old.
McBride was assigned to the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, Detachment 405, out of Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama. Before that, he was a beloved and talented athlete at Statesboro High, where he played defensive back on the Blue Devils’ 2001 state championship team. He later played at Savannah State University.
He was quiet but amiable, humble but driven. And that grin.
“I will always remember him as a young man of high character with a great smile,” Statesboro High Principal Dr. Ken LeCain said in a statement posted on the school’s Facebook page. ” … I consider myself fortunate to have worked closely with Chester as a student and an athlete.”
Said Pennington, who served as defensive coordinator when McBride attended the school from 1999 to 2003: “You could be having your deepest and darkest day, but he could elevate your spirit with the most radiant smile that you’d ever want to see. And that smile comes from a pure heart.”
According to the Department of Defense, McBride and his comrades were killed when a suicide bomber on a motorcycle crashed into their security patrol. It was the deadliest attack in Afghanistan since 2013, and came just a few days shy of the one-year anniversary of the United States and NATO formally ending their combat mission in the country.
Others killed Monday were Staff Sgt. Louis Michael Bonacasa, a 31-year-old father from Long Island, N.Y.; Staff Sgt. Michael A Cinco, a 28-year-old from Mercedes, Texas; Technical Sgt. Joseph G. Lemm, a 45-year-old veteran of the New York Police Department; Staff Sgt. Peter W. Taub, a 30-year-old expectant father from Philadelphia; and Maj. Adrianna M. Vorderbruggen, a 36-year-old from Plymouth, Minn., who was reported to be one of the military’s first openly gay female service members.
Two service members and a U.S. contractor were also injured in the attack, Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said in a statement, adding that officials were “still learning all of the details.”
“Our deepest sympathies go out to the families of these brave Americans who died in service to this vital mission, and our thoughts remain with all of our troops serving overseas during this holiday season so that we may have peace and security at home,” Carter said.
According to the independent database maintained at iCasualties.org, McBride was the 73rd Georgian service member to die in Afghanistan since 2004, and the third this year. Airman 1st Class Kcey Ruiz, a 21-year-old McDonough native, was killed in an Oct. 1 plane crash at the Jalalabad Airfield. Army Specialist Kyle Gilbert, 24, of Buford, died in a “non-combat incident” in Bagram on Sept. 21.
Not included in the database were Richard P. McEvoy, 57, of Peachtree City, and Barry D. Sutton, 46, of Rome. Both were working as defense contractors training Afghan national army and police officials when a suicide bomber hit their convoy on Aug. 22.
McEvoy, Sutton and at least 10 others were killed in the attack.
A total of 215 Georgian service members have died in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2003, according to iCasualties.org.
In Statesboro this week, those who knew McBride poured out condolences on Facebook and in text messages, and Mayor Jan Moore ordered the flags over City Hall flown at half-staff. Others, like Pennington, reflected on the inspiration McBride left behind.
“He wanted the world to be good,” the coach said. “And to be good you’ve got to have good people.”
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The Associated Press contributed to this report.