Staff Sgt. Bryan Black, 35, of Puyallup, Wash., and Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright, 29, of Lyons, Ga., also were killed under fire, the military reported. A fourth U.S. soldier died in the same location, a Pentagon spokesman confirmed to this newspaper late Friday, but the name of the service member and details about the circumstances of what happened were not released.
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Jeff and Teena Baldridge had lived across the street from Johnson’s mother and stepfather in Clearcreek Twp. near Springboro. On Friday, they fondly recalled socializing with the Army soldier, his wife and two children at barbecues and pool parties.
“This is not another name,” said Jeff Baldridge, an Air Force veteran who spent three decades in the military. “This is a young man who gave his life for his country, and it’s hard to wrap your hands around the fact that for us this isn’t just another statistic. For us, every single veteran is precious.”
The U.S. soldiers and at least four Nigerien soldiers were killed in a joint operation, officials said.
Mali-based militants in Niger’s Tillaberi region engaged in an ambush on a reconnaissance patrol near the border, according to a statement from Niger’s Army Chief of Staff, reports said.
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U.S. Africa Command said the U.S. forces were in Niger to provide training and security assistance to the Nigerien Armed Forces in their efforts against violent extremists. Two U.S. soldiers injured in the ambush were taken to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, U.S. Africa Command reported. At least eight Nigerien soldiers were injured, media reports said.
Johnson reportedly had moved to Springboro in his 20s to be with his mother and stepfather.
Johnson’s family was expecting his return to the United States in December, the Baldridges said. The soldier’s mother and stepfather had moved to South Carolina in recent years, they said.
Teena Baldridge said two soldiers in Army dress uniforms came to the neighborhood late Wednesday evening looking for the soldier’s mother.
Baldridge said she and her husband were heartbroken.
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“It’s everyone’s nightmare to have that doorbell ring … I always had that fear, never knowing,” she said.
Teena Baldridge said Johnson wasn’t one to complain.
“They’re so many people that complain, and they are negative, but Jeremiah was not that way,” she said. “He was happy. Full of life.”
The couple planned to attend a memorial service for Johnson at Fort Bragg.
“Jeremiah is always going to be remembered a hero, not a coward,” she said. “He’s just that kind of guy.”
Springboro Mayor John Agenbroad, whose grandson, Jackson Book of Springboro, shipped off Friday to Iraq, lamented the loss of Johnson and other soldiers.
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“We’re so stretched out with all the wars,” said Agenbroad, also a veteran. “It’s a shame our young men and women have to spend so many deployments in these places. The odds are against them.”
Lt. Col. Megan Brogden, commander of the Group Support Battalion of the 3rd Special Forces Group, called Johnson “an exceptional soldier in all regards.”
“He not only represented what we should all aspire to be, but he lived it,” Brogden said in a statement. “His loss is a great blow and he will be missed and mourned by this unit.”
Members of Congress offered condolences Friday.
“Sgt. Johnson’s sacrifice for his country showed true heroism,” U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, said in a statement. “His service will not be forgotten.”
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown said in a statement Johnson “gave the ultimate sacrifice for the country he loved, and we are all grateful for his service. My heart breaks for his family and friends, and those who served by his side. ”
The White House said President Donald Trump was notified about the attack Wednesday night as he flew aboard Air Force One from Las Vegas to Washington.
Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Burkina Faso and Chad are putting together a 5,000-strong force to fight the growing threat from extremists in the vast Sahel region. The first units are expected to deploy in October and all battalions should be on the ground by March 2018.
The Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution in June welcoming the deployment.
Jeff Baldridge, the former neighbor, said about his grief for Johnson’s death: “On the outside, you see nothing. You may see some tears. On the inside, it’s like something got torn out. A piece of you that was there is gone.”
Caroline Reinwald of WHIO-TV and The Associated Press contributed to this report.