The U.S. Defense Department has identified the three Marines killed Monday outside Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan as Cpl. Robert A. Hendriks, 25, of Locust Valley, N.Y.; Sgt. Benjamin S. Hines, 31, of York, Pa., and Staff Sgt. Christopher K.A. Slutman, 43, of Newark, Del.
All three were reservists assigned to the 25th Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division, according to a Pentagon news release.
The men were killed by a car bomb targeting a convoy, according to Afghan officials. Three other Americans and five Afghan civilians were wounded. An Afghan contractor was initially reported as also having died in the attack, but the military said Tuesday that the man survived with injuries.
The deaths bring the number of American troops killed in Afghanistan this year to seven. Last year, 13 U.S. servicemembers were killed in combat there.
Slutman and Hines were friends and squad leaders together. News of their deaths left family and friends in their hometowns reeling.
“They were very close since…a lot of people in our unit were from the East Coast,” said friend Kyle Moyer, a Marine veteran and Morgantown, Pa., salesman. “I just really hurt for their families. I’m really sad. If their families need anything, myself and other Marines, we’ll be willing to do anything to help them.”
Slutman was a 15-year member of the New York City Fire Department, according to New York Mayor Bill de Blasio. He leaves behind a wife and three daughters, a former Marine in his platoon said.
As a fireman, Slutman was decorated for bravery in 2014 after rescuing an unconscious woman from a burning building in the South Bronx, de Blasio said in a statement.
“Firefighter Slutman bravely wore two uniforms and committed his life to public service both as a New York City Firefighter and as a member of the United States Marine Corps,” said New York Fire Commissioner Daniel A. Nigro. “The hearts and prayers of the entire Department are with his loved ones and with the families of his fellow service members who lost their lives in service to our nation.”
Moyer served with Slutman in Echo Company, 2nd Battalion, 25th Marines. They were in the same platoon when they deployed overseas to Iraq together.
Moyer said that Marines often joked with Slutman about his age — he was in his 30s at the time — and he in turn would “rub it in our faces” by challenging everyone else to keep up.
“Christopher, he was a very caring person. He was older than everyone else, so we called him ‘the old man,'” Moyer said. “He was always grounded. He never let things bother him. He was a really good guy and family man.”
Hines and Slutman were expected back in the U.S. in a week and a half, Moyer said.
Marine veteran Sam Belli, 27, of Pipersville, Pa., said he served in Hines’ squad.
“He was all around a great guy with an upbeat attitude who loved the Corps through and through,” Belli said. “He never treated you like a subordinate. You were always an equal and friend.”
Belli said Hines would lift morale by doing his version of funny lines from movies; “he would know how to get everyone’s morale and attitude back on track.”
Sam’s brother John Belli, a Marine veteran who also served in the same platoon, said he and Hines hit it off quickly.
“I was pretty fresh in the Marines and he was an unbelievable leader, a natural born leader,” John Belli, 29, said. “He was very attentive to his Marines and always put everyone else’s needs first.”
The bombing marks the deadliest incident for Americans in Afghanistan since November, when a roadside bomb blast in the country’s eastern Ghazni province killed four U.S. troops.
Bagram is home to thousands of U.S. and allied troops and contractors. U.S. and other coalition troops routinely patrol the area surrounding the airfield in armored vehicles and sometimes on foot.
Americans soldiers opened fire immediately after the convoy was bombed, said Abdul Shakor Qudosi, the district administrative chief in Bagram.
Four of the wounded civilians were passers-by and the fifth was driving a car down the road, Abdul Raqib Kohistani, the Bagram district police chief, told the Associated Press.
The Afghans were treated for their injuries, including the contractor who initially was mistaken for a civilian.
“We feel and mourn the loss of these Americans with their families and loved ones,” said Gen. Scott Miller, commanding general of the Resolute Support mission and U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, in a statement. “They volunteered to protect their country. We will continue our mission.”
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