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Mother of Marine who died in Afghanistan wages a battle for justice

Susan Price doesn't sleep much these days. ¶ She eats only when she can take a break from her research. ¶ She carries with her a 3-inch binder containing hundreds of pages of news articles, investigation reports and eyewitness accounts of what happened in an Afghan desert 7,000 miles from her Brandon home on one tragic day in September 2009. ¶ This is the life of a mother still searching for answers in the death of her son. ¶ "We never had any closure," said Price, 54.

Her 30-year-old son, Marine Staff Sgt. Aaron Kenefick, was leading a group of American and Afghani soldiers on a training mission when they were attacked. Kenefick and three other Marines were trapped in the mouth of the Ganjgal Valley and cut off from the larger fighting force.

They radioed the joint command center, Price said, but the Army officials there denied their request for help.

For about two hours, just as the sun was rising over the hot Afghani desert, her son and the three other men used up their last bullets as they waited for help that never came, Price said. When the officers did send help, it was too late.

"They could've got them out," Price said.

By the end of this month, her attorneys will send a formal petition and list of grievances to Congress on her behalf and that of the families of the other Marines killed in the attack.

"We want justice and all that that entails," Price says.

A lack of proper communication and the absence of qualified officers in the joint command center were the main reason the Marines were killed that day, according to investigation reports on the U.S. Central Command website.

Three officers, whose names were redacted from the documents, were found responsible for their deaths because of negligence, abandonment and dereliction of duty. The three were filling in for the officers usually in charge and were not involved in the planning of the mission.

The officers filling in were found directly responsible for the disconnect. They were given written reprimands, a severe military punishment, according to the report.

All three have left the service, Price said.

But she found out in July that one officer was promoted and then retired and received a Meritorious Service Award.

Lt. Col. T.G. Taylor, a spokesman for U.S. Central Command, who did not comment specifically about this case, acknowledged that a written reprimand is a serious punishment in the military. And when awards are given, the whole of a soldier's career is examined. One mistake wouldn't necessarily mean he didn't deserve to be recognized for his service, he said.

But that isn't enough for Price.

"We want them punished. We want justice," Price said.

Price, who spent three years in the Army as an administrative liaison, was raised in a military family. Her father was also a Marine, and Kenefick is buried next to him in upstate New York.

Price, who works in medical marketing, moved to Brandon seven years ago when Kenefick was transferred to Central Command.

Since her son's death, Price splits her time between Brandon and New York, where her two daughters live with their families.

She dedicates most of her free time to her search for answers.

She wants to know how Kenefick, who served for 12 years and was a Marine of the year twice, "ended up dead in a ditch."

And she wants to know why the officers who neglected and abandoned the Marines that day weren't punished more severely.

"I'm my son's voice, and we're demanding answers now," she said.

To get them, she is trying to bring as much attention to that day as possible.

Price plans to release her own book recounting her journey for justice next year.

She appeared on 60 Minutes last year with Dakota Meyer, a soldier who received the Medal of Honor when he entered the battle, retrieved the bodies of the fallen Marines and helped save their Afghani allies.

Before the group came under fire, Kenefick told Meyer to stay and guard the truck. While the other men were trapped, Meyer risked his own life and entered the foray.

"Those two were like brothers," Price said.

Meyer's book, Into the Fire: A Firsthand Account of the Most Extraordinary Battle in the Afghan War, was released Sept. 25. He gave Price a signed copy.

After hearing about Price's calls for answers, families of other fallen soldiers have reached out to her lately, she said. She is able to give advice on how to submit records requests and which Congress member to speak with.

But mostly she understands their grief. Her own still "wraps around her like a blanket."

Kenefick died in the service as he wanted to, Price said. But it's the way he died that she can't accept.

"The answers that come back are nothing but excuses," she said.

Hopefully, she says, her petition to Congress will bring more attention to the "atrocities" of that day, and nothing like that will ever happen to another man or woman in the military.

"I'm a warrior mother," Price said. "There's nothing more ferocious than a mother's love."

But she insists she isn't fighting just for her son.

"I know I can't bring him back," Price said. "I'm doing this for all of America's sons and daughters who serve."

Mother of Marine who died in Afghanistan wages a battle for justice 09/27/12 [Last modified: Thursday, September 27, 2012 4:30am]
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