Mark Taylor
Four Kansas City metro servicemen – including two from Olathe – were killed in last week’s ambush on a Chinook helicopter in Afghanistan.
The four local soldiers were among 38 U.S. and Afghan service members killed when their helicopter was shot down with a rocket-propelled grenade on Aug. 6.
The Olathe soldiers have been identified as Spc. Alexander Bennett, 23, and Spc. Spencer Duncan, 21.
Also killed were  Matt Mason, 37, of the Kearney area, and Chief Warrant Officer 2 Bryan Nichols, 31, of Kansas City.
“Their courage was exemplary, as was their determination to make this a safer world for their countries and for their fellow citizens,” Leon Panetta, secretary of defense, said in a statement posted on the Department of Defense website.  “We will stay the course to complete that mission, for which they and all who have served and lost their lives in Afghanistan have made the ultimate sacrifice.  They and their families are in my thoughts, in my prayers and in my heart.”
Hundreds attended an Aug. 10 candlelight vigil for Duncan, a member of Bravo Company, 7th Battalion, 158th Aviation Regiment, based at New Century Air Center.
Duncan was a door gunner for the battalion.
Bennett served as a flight engineer and door gunner.
Mason was a member of the Navy SEAL team traveling in the helicopter.
Nichols was a helicopter pilot who had been serving in Afghanistan for two months.
The area soldiers were among 25 American special operations forces, five Army aircrew members, seven Afghan commandos and an Afghan interpreter killed in the attack.
Local soldiers were identified to the media independently by friends and family members.
On Aug. 11, the Department of Defense is expected to release the names, ranks, ages, units and hometowns of the remaining U.S. Servicemen killed in the attack.
The bodies are currently being identified at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.
Navy Capt Jane Campbell, director of defense press operations, released a statement indicating that military officials would not release the names until all of the service members were positively identified.
“Due to the catastrophic nature of the crash, the remains of our fallen service members will be returned to the U.S. via Dover AFB in ‘unidentified’ status, until they can be positively identified by the Armed Forces Mortuary Affairs Office at Dover,” Cambell said. “Because the remains are unidentified at this point, next-of-kin are not in a position to grant approval for media access to the dignified transfer. Therefore, in accordance with Department of Defence policy, no media coverage of the arrival and dignified transfer is permitted. Families will however, be given the opportunity to be present for the arrival.”
Officials from the Department of Defense announced on Aug. 10 that Taliban insurgents believed to be responsible for downing the Chinook were killed by NATO airstrikes.
The action was carried out with a “precision” airstrike.
Among those killed was Taliban leader Mullah Mohibullah and the insurgent believed to be responsible for firing the fatal shot that brought down the Chinook.
“This does not ease our loss,” Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen said. “But we must and we will continue to relentlessly pursue the enemy.”