An openly gay Air Force investigator and a New York City police detective were among those killed in this week's Taliban attack, the deadliest insurgent assault on U.S. troops in Afghanistan in at least three years and a sign of mounting militant violence there.
Air Force Maj. Adrianna Vorderbruggen died in Monday's attack, which took place when an explosive-laden motorcycle detonated near a group of American troops conducting a patrol near Bagram, according to friend Tracey Hepner.
Hepner said that Vorderbruggen and her partner, an Air Force veteran named Heather Lamb, had been advocates for repealing the ban on gays in the military, a rule known as "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" that was lifted in 2011.
Hepner met Lamb when both women were canvassing members of Congress in support of repealing the law. "Heather and Adrianna worked toward the repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't tell,' not just for their family, but for all military families," Hepner said.
According to her LinkedIn page, Voderbruggen attended the U.S. Air Force Academy and George Washington University. In 2010, she began working as a special agent for the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, a federal law enforcement arm of the Air Force that investigates felony-level crimes in the United States and overseas.
Prior to the end of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," Vorderbruggen, like other partners of gay service members at that time, was forced to conceal much of her home life, Hepner said. When Lamb was preparing to give birth to the couple's first baby, shortly before the law's repeal, Vorderbruggen "had to secretly schedule her leave to coincide with Heather being in labor," her friend said.
The year after their son Jacob's birth, Vorderbruggen and Lamb were married at the Botanical Gardens in Washington, D.C., Hepner said.
Hepner described the couple as family-focused. "They loved that little boy and their family loved them," she said.
Monday's attack brings the number of American service members killed in Afghanistan operations this year to 21. While President Barack Obama is seeking to limit the role of U.S. troops in Afghanistan as foreign forces withdraw, ten of those killed died because of hostile military activity. Pentagon officials declined to immediately confirm the identities of those killed.
Joseph Lemm, a New York City police detective and Staff Sgt. in the U.S. Air National Guard, was also among the soldiers killed, according to officials in New York. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said that Lemm "embodied the selflessness and bravery of the U.S. Armed Forces and the NYPD."
Lemm, who was married and had two children, had worked for the New York City Police Dept. for 15 years, and became a detective for the Bronx in Jan. 2014, according to New York City Police Commissioner William Bratton. Lemm had served in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Another victim was Staff Sgt. Peter Taub, his family said. In the District of Columbia on Tuesday, flowers piled up outside of Bub and Pop's, a sandwich shop where Taub's mother and brother are owner and chef.
"Our family is just devastated, grief-stricken," said Arlene Wagner, Taub's mother. "My heart goes out to the five other families that are experiencing the same thing. People can't possibly know what this is like unless they've experienced it."
Wagner said that her son had a 3-year-old daughter whom he adored and a wife who is expecting another child.
"He will have a child that he will never see now," Wagner said. Breaking down in tears, she said, "It's just really, really hard because I expected him to come home."
She said Taub made the decision in his 20s to join the military, after growing up admiring his grandfather who served in World War II and an uncle who was in the Air Force.
"He was committed to the safety of the country," Wagner said. "He really was doing important work over there when this happened, to ensure the safety of other military personnel. I think he's a hero."
Jan Moore, the mayor of Statesboro, Georgia, said that city native Chester McBride Jr. was also among those killed. According to the Statesboro Herald, those who knew him described McBride as a quiet young man.
"We are so proud of this young man for his service to our nation," Moore said in an emailed statement. "This brings a war that that is worlds away to our doorstep."