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Friday, December 15, 2017

By Barbara Goldberg

NEW YORK (Reuters) — A female Air Force officer who was one of the first openly gay U.S. service members to get married was identified on Tuesday as one of the six U.S. troops killed by a suicide bomber near Bagram air base in Afghanistan.

Air Force Major Adrianna Vorderbruggen, who was commanding the security patrol targeted in Monday’s attack, was the first openly gay U.S. servicewoman killed in action, the Daily Beast news website reported, citing a Department of Defense official.

Vorderbruggen, 36, was assigned to the Air Force Office of Special Investigations (OSI), the main law enforcement branch of the Air Force. She was also the first female OSI agent killed in the line of duty, Air Force spokeswoman Linda Card said.

She was commanding a routine security patrol on Monday in a village near Bagram air base when a man on a motorcycle drove into the middle of the group and detonated a bomb, Card said.

The attack was the deadliest on U.S. forces in Afghanistan this year.

Facebook postings on Tuesday by Vorderbruggen’s loved ones mourned her death and offered condolences to her wife, Heather, and their son, Jacob. The family lives near Washington, D.C., where the couple was married in June 2012, the year after the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for gays was repealed.

“We do find comfort in knowing that Heather and Jacob are no longer in the shadows and will be extended the rights and protections due any American military family as they move through this incredibly difficult period in their lives,” said the posting from Military Partners and Families Coalition.

Bagram, around 40 km (25 miles) north of Kabul, is one of the main bases for the remaining 9,800 U.S. troops in Afghanistan after international troops ended combat operations last year.

The other victims of Monday’s attack included Air National Guard Technical Sergeant Joseph Lemm, 45, a 15-year veteran of the New York City Police Department who also volunteered in the Guard and was on his third deployment to war zones.

He served in the Newburgh, New York-based 105th Airlift Wing with Staff Sergeant Louis Bonacasa, 31, who also died in the attack, the Air National Guard said.

The other three killed were all U.S. Air Force staff sergeants who served with Vorderbruggen in the OIS – Michael Cinco, 28, of Mercedes, Texas; Peter Taub, 30, of Philadelphia; and Chester McBride, 30, of Statesboro, Georgia, the Air Force said.

The Taliban, who claimed responsibility for the strike, remain resilient 14 years after the start of U.S. military operations in Afghanistan. It has ramped up its attacks this year, inflicting heavier casualties on Afghan security forces.

The Pentagon warned last week of deteriorating security in Afghanistan and assessed the performance of Afghan security forces as “uneven and mixed.”

More than 2,300 U.S. troops have died in the Afghan war since 2001, but the pace of U.S. deaths has fallen sharply since the end of formal U.S. combat and a drawdown of American forces.

(Additional reporting by Joseph Ax in New York and Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Alistair Bell)

Photo: Maj. Adrianna Vorderbruggen, Staff Sgt. Louis M Bonacasa, Staff Sgt. Chester J McBride (TopL-R), Staff Sgt. Peter W Taub, Technical Sgt. Joseph G Lemm, and Staff Sgt. Michael A Cinco (BottomL-R) are pictured in this combination of undated handout photos provided by the U.S. Air Force, December 23, 2015. REUTERS/U.S. Air Force/Handout via Reuters