Communities grieve for dead guardsmen

ATLANTA — Three Georgia communities are grieving after three members of a Georgia National Guard unit deployed less than a month ago died in an attack in Afghanistan this week.

The Pentagon identified the men as Maj. Kevin M. Jenrette, 37, of Lula; Staff Sgt. John C. Beale, 39, of Riverdale; and Spc. Jeffrey W. Jordan, 21, of Cave Spring.

The three died Thursday of wounds from an improvised explosive device and small arms fire near Kapisa, the Pentagon said. They are the first Georgia guardsmen killed since the Georgia National Guard entered Afghanistan, said Lt. Col. Kenneth Baldowski.

“We certainly hope they’re the last,” he said.

They were assigned to the 1st Battalion, 108th Reconnaissance, Surveillance and Target Acquisition Squadron, 48th Infantry Brigade Combat Team of the Georgia Army National Guard in Calhoun. The unit, which previously served in Iraq, is training local security forces and police, Baldowski said. About 2,000 members of the 48th are in Afghanistan.

Maj. Gen. Terry Nesbitt, Georgia’s Adjutant General, said the three deaths — which came about three weeks into the unit’s deployment — were “traumatic” for the guard.

“Their deaths occurring so early in the deployment of the 48th Brigade, underscores the very real challenges facing our soldiers and the inherent risks of the mission,” he said.

Gov. Sonny Perdue expressed sadness at the deaths in a statement Friday.

“These men and women go where they are asked on a moment’s notice, leaving behind families and communities that miss them dearly,” he said. “It is our responsibility to do all that we can to comfort these families and all of the families with a loved one in the line of duty.”

Jenrette was married and had three young children, said his father, U.S. Army Col. Albert Jenrette.

“So many people thought so much of him and there’s a lot of people reaching out to us and to his family,” Albert Jenrette said. “We’ve gotten wonderful support.”

Alvin Burns, pastor of the Timber Ridge Baptist Church, said he had known Jenrette’s family about three years.

“I don’t know a better person than Kevin,” Burns said. “He was exceptional.”

Jordan, who as a civilian was employed by the Floyd County Prison, had a wife and a son, Tailor. He died on Tailor’s first birthday.

“This is really a tragedy,” said Barbara White, Jordan’s grandmother. “He was a terrific kid.”

From childhood, Jordan had a knack for fixing things and served in the military to put his skills to work and provide a good life for his family, said his cousin, Bill Fortenberry.

“He wasn’t afraid to go,” Fortenberry said. “He was confident in his own skills and in the skills of those who would be working with him.”

Beale worked for the Clayton County Water Authority, where his wife also works. He had two kids in high school.

“He was very passionate about serving in the military and serving his country,” said authority spokeswoman Suzanne Brown.

He was also very involved with the authority’s youth programs and liked to participate in career days at local schools, Brown said.

“He really loved kids and did a great job reaching out to them in our public education efforts,” she said. “It has been a very sad day for all of us.”