Records reveal details of Oklahoma soldiers' deaths in Afghanistan

A memorial unveiled last month in Norman provided some details about the 15 reserve soldiers killed in action during the war on terrorism. Records provided by the U.S. Army shed even more light on these deaths, some of them nothing short of tragic.
by Andrew Knittle Published: April 21, 2014
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Many of the soldiers interviewed after his death mentioned that Cunningham became distraught when he learned that Ewy had died.

Ewy was killed July 29, 2011, about two weeks before Cunningham took his own life.

Cunningham and Ewy are described in Army documents as “two birds of the same feather,” who spent time together when they were back in the U.S., frequently hunting or just hanging out together.

According to records released by the Army, the day after Ewy was killed in Paktya province by an improvised explosive device, Cunningham pulled another soldier aside to share the news.

The soldier, who is not identified in the report, told Army investigators about the July 30, 2011, encounter with Cunningham. The unidentified soldier also knew Ewy from previous experiences in the Army.

“Upon hearing the news that (Ewy) was a casualty, I became extremely upset because I knew him very well and considered him a friend,” the soldier told investigators.

“This apparently had an effect on (Cunningham) because he began crying a little, too.”

Throughout the report on Cunningham’s death, his relationship with Ewy is continuously discussed by investigators, though nobody interviewed during the inquiry could recall Cunningham displaying any suicidal tendencies.

“Second Lt. Cunningham suffered a very traumatic loss of his close friend, Second Lt. Jered Ewy, who was killed in the line of duty,” the report on Cunningham’s death states.

“Those that knew Second Lt. Cunningham best state that over the last two weeks, (Cunningham) spent a lot of time talking about (Ewy) and how he felt about losing his close friend in combat.”

The report also states that the battalion chaplain had met with Cunningham a week after Ewy had died and that the two had spoken for three hours.

“A large part of the conversation was dealing with the death of Second Lt. Jered Ewy,” the report states.

According to the report on Cunningham’s death, Ewy’s death and the depression that struck Cunningham about this same time “may have played a factor” in the soldier’s death, but it is believed that the stress of a new, more demanding job within the Army and erratic sleeping habits also may have been to blame.

At the time of his death, Cunningham was temporarily staying at a command center in the Laghman province of Afghanistan, though he was awaiting orders to return to his unit in another part of the war-torn nation.

The other soldier whose death was deemed “non-combat,” Spc. Joshua Michael Seals, died Aug. 16, 2011, in Paktya province.

Seals, 21, was shot in the head by another soldier who was cleaning his M4 combat rifle, which is used by many U.S. servicemen.

Small weapons take big toll

Six of the 15 Reserve soldiers from Oklahoma killed in action in Afghanistan were killed by insurgents wielding what the Army describes as “small arms,” a phrase that covers such weapons as handguns and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

Sgt. Anthony Del Mar Peterson was killed Aug. 4, 2011, when an insurgent wearing “local garb” pulled out an AK-47 — which he had concealed beneath his clothing — and “sprayed approximately 30 rounds at three U.S. soldiers,” a report on his death states. Peterson was killed in the Paktya province of Afghanistan.

An unidentified U.S. soldier who was interviewed by Army investigators following Peterson’s death said the man who killed Peterson had just pulled up to the Americans on motorcycle.

“The guy jumped off his bike and stood there in front of us just staring at us for a couple seconds,” the soldier said during his statement to investigators.

“We told the guy he needs to go around to our right so he can get (searched). It was Peterson right in front of him ... We never seen his weapon at all. He just put his finger on the trigger, well, and started shooting starting from the ground up ... just a spray and pray.”

Peterson, 24, was shot in the head and died instantly. Another soldier, who is not identified in the report, was shot in the leg but survived.

After he was fatally shot, one of Peterson’s flares went off and he caught on fire. The unidentified soldier who spoke with Army investigators said he shot the insurgent who killed Peterson “twice in the chest,” but noted that the insurgent disappeared in the chaos.

“I went to Peterson, but I knew he was gone,” the soldier told investigators. “I knew if I spent any time with him, (the other wounded soldier) would die so I had to act quick with him.”

Along with other members of his platoon, Peterson was taking part in a three-day mission to disrupt enemy operations and to clear a site where two U.S. soldiers and five others had been killed by an IED the week before.

The soldiers were conducting a dismounted patrol, meaning they were walking around on foot, away from the limited protection of the vehicles soldiers use as they move from place to place in Afghanistan.

The report on Peterson’s death reveals that he was wearing body armor and protective gloves when he was shot and killed.

Along with Peterson, five other Oklahoma National Guard soldiers were killed when they were attacked by insurgents wielding firearms.


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by Andrew Knittle
Investigative Reporter
Andrew Knittle has covered state water issues, tribal concerns and major criminal proceedings during his career as an Oklahoma journalist. He has won reporting awards from the state's Associated Press bureau and prides himself on finding a real...
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