FORT STEWART, Ga. - Soldiers were training in darkness when their armored vehicle fell from a bridge and landed upside down in the water below, killing three of those inside and injuring three others, the commanding general of Fort Stewart said Monday.
Maj. Gen. Antonio Aguto struggled to hold back tears at a news conference as he read the names of the soldiers who died Sunday during a training exercise hours before dawn.
“It is hard enough when you lose one soldier,” Aguto said. “But when you lose three at one time, that pain is amplified. And we are really feeling and sharing that pain.”
The Army identified the soldiers who died as Sgt. 1st Class Bryan Jenkins, 41, of Gainesville, Florida; Cpl. Thomas Walker, 22, of Conneaut, Ohio; and Pfc. Antonio Garcia, 21, of Peoria, Arizona.
Governor Doug Ducey ordered flags to be flown at half staff on Tuesday in Garcia's honor.
Garcia was a triplet, a graduate of Sandra Day O'Connor High School and a proud service member.
"We love him with every fiber of our beings and we will continue to cherish and celebrate his life and carry on his memory forever," Garcia's mother told FOX 10.
(Photo: Garcia Family)
Garcia's high school counselor remembers the 2016 graduate.
"Had a great work ethic and just all-around good just a great young man," said Chris Harmonson, high school counselor.
Harmonson was Garcia's counselor for four years. He says while in high school, Garcia never talked about joining the army but was not surprised that's what he ended up doing.
"I know he was trying to give back to his country and that's why he enlisted and was just really proud of that moment," said Harmonson. "He was the kind who always wanted to give to others and always about everyone around him and very helpful."
The Garcias want to mourn their devastating loss in private. They said Antonio was "the most brave, kind-hearted and loving person we have had the privilege of knowing."
The family will hold a private memorial service for Antonia, the public will not be invited. His unit at Fort Stewart will also hold a service later this month.
The soldiers belonged to the 1st Armored Brigade of the Fort Stewart-based 3rd Infantry Division. Aguto said the deadly crash happened shortly before 3:30 a.m. Sunday as the brigade was training for a rotation early next year at the Army’s National Training Center in California.
Six soldiers were riding in a Bradley fighting vehicle in a training area of the sprawling Army post southwest of Savannah when it “rolled off a bridge and was submerged upside down in a stream,” Aguto said.
Aguto and Michael Barksdale, the Army’s lead investigator on the crash, declined to give further details such as how far the vehicle fell and the depth of the water. The Army is conducting autopsies to determine how the soldiers died. Investigators from the Army Combat Readiness Center at Fort Rucker, Alabama, expect to take up to four weeks before giving Fort Stewart commanders a preliminary report, Barksdale said.
Three other soldiers in the vehicle were injured. Two were treated and released from an Army hospital the day of the crash. The third remained hospitalized Monday with injuries that weren’t considered life-threatening, Aguto said.
The training exercise being conducted early Sunday had been planned and rehearsed ahead of time, Aguto said. And while the remnants of Tropical Storm Nestor swept across southeast Georgia late Saturday and early Sunday, Aguto said there had been no severe weather warnings and the storm’s rain and winds had already passed before the crash occurred.
At least 12 Army soldiers have died in nine training accidents across the U.S. in 2019, including the crash Sunday at Fort Stewart, according to the Army Combat Readiness Center, which investigates fatal accidents.
“The training is tough, realistic and we train for all sorts of conditions no matter where we would go,” Aguto said. “You would expect us to do that. And that was the case in this instance.”
Aguto said Fort Stewart would plan a memorial service for the soldiers who died. Jenkins recently finished his 18th year in the Army and was a veteran of two tours in Iraq.
Walker and Garcia, roughly 20 years younger, had never deployed overseas. Walker enlisted in 2016, while Garcia joined the Army last year.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.