One week ago today, three U.S. servicemembers were killed and dozens of others were injured in a deadly drone strike in Jordan, and this weekend, the families of those three servicemembers received the remains of their loved ones at a military base in Dover, Delaware.
Scripps News met the family of Specialist Kennedy Sanders in her hometown of Waycross, Georgia, on the day her family learned President Joe Biden had promoted her to sergeant.
"She prided herself with bringing the fanny pouch back in style. And she did not care what anybody thought about it!" Sanders mother, Oneida Oliver-Sanders, chuckled.
To Sgt. Kennedy Sanders' mom and aunt, she was still their "munchkin,” even at 24 years old.
“She was always so small. It's just like, all of a sudden, she had a growth spurt in high school, but all the way up until the end, she was always the smallest one on the team, but the most aggressive one on the team,” Oliver-Sanders reflected.
It’s still hard for the family to believe she’s not coming home.
“I'm like, I'm still waiting for them to say, ‘this is a mistake.’ You know? Like, you know, you just can't imagine the hurt and the pain. That you're not going to see your child,” said Laticia Gilliam, Sanders’ aunt. “She was like my baby too.”
Kennedy's mother said her daughter enlisted in the army reserve five years ago as a nod to her dad's time serving as a marine and, as a path toward a financially stable future.
"She was planning to renew full time after her contract was up. So yes, she did have a plan to make a career of it."
Sanders was a horizontal construction engineer and was in Jordan to help build infrastructure for U.S. troops.
“Most of my fears were related to her operating heavy equipment, having an accident on a, you know, a bulldozer or something like that. Never in a type of combat danger.” Oliver-Sanders said.
But now, they're faced with the reality that their little girl-turned-proud soldier will not be coming home. They've found some comfort in President Biden posthumously promoting Sanders and the tributes pouring in from across the nation.
“It has been very overwhelming, and it makes me proud that people are honoring her in this way,” said Oliver-Sanders.
There is also comfort, she said, in the fact that Sanders and fellow soldier Sgt. Breonna Moffet, who was also killed in the attack, had each other.
“It does give me a sense of peace to know that they were… they had each other all the way until the end, and you know that they weren't alone, and hopefully they weren't afraid,” said Oliver-Sanders.
The Sanders family said they trust the president will honor the lives of their daughter and the other soldiers killed by taking action to protect the troops still overseas.
“Kennedy still has friends left in the area. You know, her battle buddies. They are all grieving and still having to deal with the situation at hand for themselves,” explained Oliver-Sanders. “So, I know it would be her wish for them to be able to make it home safely.”
Sanders’ mom said her wish is for people to live life the way her daughter lived. “Follow your dreams, because Kennedy definitely did.”
Knowing that is what this mother will hold tight to and forever be proud of when she remembers her munchkin, her sergeant.
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