Shiprock, NM, USA
SFC, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Infantry, Fort Riley, KS
10/07/2009, Washington, USA
Army Sergeant First Class Kenneth W. Westbrook was looking forward to retiring from the military in November, a long-cherished milestone that would allow him to spend more time with his wife and three sons. Then came the call to Afghanistan and one final tour of duty. With U.S. casualties mounting in the war-torn region, the dangers were evident. Yet Westbrook didn’t hesitate.
“They called him up and he said, ‘Of course I’ll go,'” related his brother, David Westbrook, 50, of Farmington, N.M., in a phone call Sunday night. “He was a strong believer in the job he was doing for our country.”
About two months from retirement, the 41-year-old Westbrook found himself in a fierce battle Sept. 8 during which he was gravely wounded when insurgents attacked his unit in the Ganjigal Valley of Afghanistan.
The insurgents used small arms and indirect fire, according to the U.S. Department of Defense. Westbrook, who was assigned to the 1st Brigade, 1st Infantry Division out of Fort Riley, died from his wounds Wednesday at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. He became the second member of his family to give his life for his country. His brother, Sergeant Marshall A. Westbrook, of the 126th Military Police Company of the New Mexico Army National Guard, died at age 43 on Oct. 1, 2005, when a bomb exploded near his Humvee in Baghdad, Iraq.
As the family prepares for Kenneth Westbrook’s funeral later this week, they are dealing with the pain of losing two family members in war.
“The family’s sad, of course,” David Westbrook said. “I think we’re dealing with it fairly well. We’re leaning on our faith quite a bit. We’re just putting our faith in God, and that’s helping us through this. We also have friends and family and community supporting us. It’s amazing how they’ve rallied around us. They cry, feeling so bad for us. We’re not in this alone.”
David Westbrook said Kenneth Westbrook was the youngest member of the family. In all, there were four sons and a daughter born to Marshall and Ruth Westbrook, of Farmington, N.M. The elder Marshall Westbrook served in the U.S. Army for 21 years before retiring and settling down with his family in New Mexico. David Westbrook said his father’s Army career may have been the inspiration for his brothers to join the military.
“We’re doing a lot of remembering about him,” David Westbrook said. “Dad really remembers him wanting to go into the Army. This is what he wanted to do.”
In the days before Kenneth Westbrook died, he was able to communicate his love for his wife and sons in the Army hospital in Washington, D.C., said David Westbrook. Kenneth Westbrook’s wife, Charlene, and sons Zachary, 20, Joshua, 18, and Joseph, 14, will return from Washington, D.C., to their home in Fountain, Colo., on Monday before going to New Mexico later in the week for their husband and father’s funeral.
“Charlene let us know that Kenneth was such a loving husband,” David Westbrook said, “and he really loved his children very much and was looking forward to spending time with them when he retired in November.”
David Westbrook described his brother Kenneth, who also served in Operation Desert Storm in 1991 in Iraq, as “a man of God. He read his Bible and talked with his wife about his love for God and his son Jesus.”
David Westbrook said his family is in a kind of “lull” that is leading up to his brother’s funeral. His mother, he said, is providing a solid “spiritual foundation” for family members as they reflect on the lives of both brothers who died in the military.
“Out of a family of five, we’ve lost two to the war,” David Westbrook said. “But we’re proud of it. We’re not against what our military men and women are doing. We support them. Every time our military loses one person, we reflect on our losses, but we feel bad for the other families, as well.”