Georgia bases ready to honor their dead

Monday was a grim day for soldiers stationed at Fort Stewart and Hunter Army Airfield and for their families.

Six soldiers assigned to the Georgia bases were killed in two separate actions in Afghanistan. Their deaths, plus the death of a Fort Bragg soldier, marked the bloodiest day for U.S. troops in Afghanistan since August 2012.

The deaths also underscored a warning from the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan to be ready for increased violence following anti-American statements from Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

His statements, officials believe, caused the deaths of Staff Sgt. Rex L. Schad and Capt. Andrew M. Pedersen-Keel. On Monday, a policemen — angered by Karzai’s statements — shot both in Wardak Province in eastern Afghanistan.

Schad, 26 and a native of Edmond, Okla., was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 69th Armor Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team. Pedersen-Keel, 28, of South Miami, was stationed at Fort Bragg.

Their deaths highlight a “rough point in the relationship” between the United States and Afghanistan, the top commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Joseph Dunford, wrote in an email to other officers.

Over the weekend, the Afghan leader accused the U.S. of colluding with the Taliban on suicide attacks to keep the country unstable and give foreign forces an excuse to stay beyond 2014, when they are scheduled to leave. His remarks followed two suicide attacks that killed at least 19 Afghans on Saturday.

Dunford and others deny they are cooperating with the Taliban.

Also on Monday, five soldiers from Hunter field died when the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter in which they were riding crashed in southern Afghanistan. The Department of Defense planned to release their names today.

In Hinesville, home of Fort Stewart, and in Savannah, where the shadows of aircraft from the nearby air field regularly darken back yards, veterans readied to do what they’ve done in the past: honor the dead.

Veterans of Foreign Wars Post No. 660 in Savannah had started planning a Saturday memorial service for the five soldiers from Hunter field, said Gail Hulette, the post’s commander. “We’ve had too many of these,” she said.

Meanwhile the Department of Defense announced late Thursday that another Fort Stewart soldier died from injuries he received in Afghanistan. Spc. David T. Proctor, 26, of Greensboro, N.C., died Wednesday at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Bethesda, Md. from non combat injuries he sustained in Kandahar March 3.

Proctor, 26, of Greensboro, N.C., was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment, 1st Armor Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division, Fort Stewart.

Fort Stewart will add the names of the fallen soldiers to its Warriors Walk, said Stephen Wheeler, commander of VFW Post No. 6602 in Hinesville. The base plants a redbud for every Stewart or Hunter soldier killed in Iraq or Afghanistan. The site contains more than 400 trees.

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