Photos: Bodies of fallen soldiers arrive at Dover Air Force Base

4:30 p.m. Photos from Dover Air Force Base

4 p.m. Vice president at Dover Air Force Base
Vice President Mike Pence, a Columbus native, was at Dover Air Force Base when the  bodies of Sgt. Jonathon Michael Hunter, 23, of Columbus, Indiana, and Spc. Christopher Michael Harris, 25, of Jackson Springs, North Carolina, arrived this afternoon.

His wife, Karen Pence, also attended.

Family members of Hunter and Harris watched the dignified transfer, a process by which, upon the return from the theater of operations to the United States, the remains of fallen military members are transferred from the aircraft to a waiting vehicle and then to the port mortuary.

The dignified transfer is not a ceremony; rather, it is a solemn movement of the transfer case by a carry team of military personnel from the fallen member’s respective service.

Pence issued this statement:

Vice President Mike Pence and Second Lady Karen Pence today attended the dignified transfer of Columbus-native U.S. Army Sergeant Jonathon Hunter at Dover Air Force Base:

“Karen and I join the Columbus community and every American in honoring the service and mourning the passing of a courageous American, Sergeant Jonathon Hunter. Sgt. Hunter was a proud Hoosier and an American hero – and his legacy will ever be enshrined in our hearts. Our prayers will be with Sgt. Hunter’s wife Whitney, his parents, his brother Marcus, and all of his loved ones and friends.”

12:45 p.m. U.S. Sen. John McCain, battling cancer, offers prayers

12:04 p.m. ‘Lived and died as warriors’
The commander of the 82nd Airborne’s 1st Brigade Combat Team issued this statement in a news release:

“The entire Devil Brigade is deeply saddened by the loss of two beloved team members,” said Col. Toby Magsig, commander of 1st Brigade Combat Team, the “Devil” Brigade.

“Spc. Christopher Harris was an extraordinary young man and a phenomenal Paratrooper,” Col. Magsig continued. “He regularly displayed the type of courage, discipline, and empathy that the Nation expects from its warriors.”

“Sgt. Jonathon Hunter was the leader we all want to work for – strong, decisive, compassionate, and courageous. He was revered by his Paratroopers and respected throughout his unit.

“Chris and Jon lived and died as warriors. They will always be a part of the legacy of the Devil Brigade and their memory lives on in the hearts and minds of their fellow Paratroopers. Our thoughts and prayers are centered on the families and loved ones of these two great Americans.”

Spc. Harris joined the Army in October 2013 and, following Basic Combat Training, Advanced Individual Training, and Airborne School at Fort Benning, Ga., was assigned to 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division. This was his first deployment.

Sgt. Hunter joined the Army in April 2014 and, following Basic Combat Training, Advanced Individual Training, and Airborne School at Fort Benning, Ga., was assigned to 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division. This was his first deployment.

11:06 a.m. Mark Hunter family releases statement
Here is the statement released Thursday by Mark Hunter, Jonathon Hunter’s father.

Our family is deeply saddened and distressed to learn of the death of our very much loved one. Jonathon not only was loved by his immediately family but by his extended family and community.

Our hearts are aching for Jonathon as well as for his brother in arms who died with him and those who were injured. Our thoughts and prayers are with them all during this hour of grief. Our heartfelt love goes out to his wife, Whitney Michelle Hunter, and his devoted mother, Kimberly Thompson.

Sgt. Jonathon Michael Hunter served with the Army in the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82 Airborne Division, Ft. Bragg, North Carolina.

Jonathon was intelligent and one of the sweetest, most generous, outgoing, God-loving people we know.  We are so appreciative of the outpouring of community support; their stories and love helps us get through this tragedy.

Jonathon loved his unit and serving his country and was excited about the opportunity to go to Afghanistan to do his part in fighting injustice.

Jonathon, always interested in family history, was touched by how his great-great-great-great uncle, John Copeland, had made a difference in this country and he wanted to do the same.

Copeland fought courageously with John Brown at Harper’s Ferry to secure the freedom of slaves prior to the Civil War. His action was one that initiated the war just 18 months later.

Jonathon comes from an exceedingly long history of committed and loyal family members – men and women – who have fought in the military since the Revolutionary War.

I know Jonathon would want us to get rid of the hate and division in this world, and that’s why he did his part to make peace.

Despite our pain, we could not be prouder of him!

With Warmest Regards, Mark C. Hunter & Family

More stories
Related story: High school, community remember Jonathon Hunter
Related story: Elected officials issue statements
Related story: Details about the suicide bombing that killed Hunter
Photo gallery: Remembering a soldier who died for his country

11 a.m. Families gathering at Dover Air Force Base
Rather than his original plan to drive to Delaware, Mark Hunter of Columbus flew out this morning to the Philadelphia airport, he said. Mark Hunter is Jonathon Hunter’s father.

From the airport, Army personnel will drive Hunter and accompanying family members 70 miles south along the Delaware River to Dover Air Force Base. They are scheduled to meet with military officials at 1:30 p.m. this afternoon.

10:40 a.m. Memorial service expected to be at Columbus East High School
Columbus East High School Principal Mark Newell confirmed this morning the Hunter and Thompson families hope to have a memorial service for Jonathon Hunter at East High School and the school is working on logistics. There is no date set yet.

10:25 a.m. update: Dignified transfer at Dover Air Force Base
The bodies of Sgt. Jonathon Michael Hunter, 23, of Columbus, Indiana, and Spc. Christopher Michael Harris, 25, of Jackson Springs, North Carolina, are expected to arrive at Dover Air Force Base after noon today. Family members are gathering at Dover.

A solemn dignified transfer of remains will be conducted about 1:45 p.m.

The Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations website describes the transfer:

A dignified transfer is the process by which, upon the return from the theater of operations to the United States, the remains of fallen military members are transferred from the aircraft to a waiting vehicle and then to the port mortuary. The dignified transfer is not a ceremony; rather, it is a solemn movement of the transfer case by a carry team of military personnel from the fallen member’s respective service.

A dignified transfer is conducted for every U.S. military member who dies in the theater of operation while in the service of their country. A senior ranking officer of the fallen member’s service presides over each dignified transfer.

The sequence of the dignified transfer starts with the fallen being returned to Dover by the most expedient means possible, which may mean a direct flight from theater, or a flight to Ramstein Air Base, Germany, and then to Dover. It is the Department of Defense’s policy, and AFMAO’s mission, to return America’s fallen to their loved ones as quickly as possible. Once the aircraft lands at Dover, service-specific carry teams remove the transfer cases individually from the aircraft and move them to a waiting mortuary transport vehicle. Once all of the transfer cases have been taken to the transport vehicles, they are then taken to the port mortuary.

In March 2009, the Secretary of Defense announced a change in policy that, upon consent of the family of the deceased, allowed media access to cover dignified transfers.

Both families have granted permission for the media to cover the dignified transfers.

9:37 a.m. GoFundMe sites for both soldiers
GoFundMe sites have been set up for the two soldiers killed Afghanistan.

Click the following links to get to the sites:

8:52 a.m. update: Department of Defense confirms deaths
Here is the news release: The Department of Defense announced today (Thursday) the death of two soldiers who were supporting Operation Freedom’s Sentinel.

They died Aug. 2 in Kandahar, Afghanistan, as a result of injuries sustained when a vehicle-borne improved explosive device detonated near their convoy. Both soldiers were assigned to 2nd Battalion, 504th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, N.C. The incident is under investigation.

Killed were:
• Sgt. Jonathon Michael Hunter, 23, of Columbus, Indiana.
• Spc. Christopher Michael Harris, 25, of Jackson Springs, North Carolina.

Suicide bombing kills Columbus soldier
A 2011 Columbus East High School graduate who found a way of life he loved in the U.S. Army was one of two American soldiers killed during a suicide bombing attack on a NATO convoy in southern Afghanistan.

The death of U.S. Army Sgt. Jonathon M. Hunter, 23, during Wednesday’s bombing attack was confirmed by his father, Mark Hunter of Columbus, and his mother, Kimberly Thompson of Nashville, Indiana.

The attack that claimed the life of the former Columbus East student and football player occurred near the city of Kandahar, according to a Pentagon source interviewed by The Associated Press. The Taliban took responsibility for the attack.

Hunter was part of an international force referred to as the Train, Advise and Assist Command south, a reference to their location in the country, according to the Associated Press.

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Jonathon Hunter served with the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airbone Division stationed at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

He was deployed to Afghanistan on July 1 of this year — his first deployment. It came about nine months after he married Whitney Michelle (Stewart) Hunter, of Fayetteville, North Carolina, on Oct. 15, 2016.

Jonathon Hunter’s role in Afghanistan was to provide security, his mother said.

Kimberly Thompson said the news of her son’s death has left her feeling numb.

“I’m very, very proud of who he has become and what he did for our country,” she said. “It’s a double-edged sword. I’m incredibly proud he served our country; it’s what he was called to do.”

Members of the Indiana National Guard informed the soldier’s parents Wednesday night.

“I was sitting out on the deck and I heard a knock. I saw the blue berets. … I opened the door, and I was asked if I was the mother of Sgt. Jonathon Hunter. I said, ‘Yes, and I know why you are here,'” Kimberly Thompson said.

His mother and other family members are working with the U.S. military on plans to have Hunter’s body flown from Dover (Delaware) Air Force Base to Columbus Municipal Airport, in anticipation of holding services in the Columbus area.

Hunter is the second East graduate who has given his life for his country while serving in Afghanistan, school officials said.

In 2010, U.S. Marine Sgt. Jeremy McQueary, 27, was killed while conducting searches for improvised explosive devices in Afghanistan.

A third local serviceman to lose his life was Cpl. John C. Bishop, 25, a 2003 Columbus North High School graduate. Bishop died Sept. 8, 2010, in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan while serving with the 2nd Battalion 9th Marines. His company was ambushed while on patrol.

Bishop’s mother, Sarah Thomas of Columbus, shared a message Thursday for Hunter’s family: “I want to extend my condolences. My heart breaks for you as you deal with your loss.”

Home in military

Joining the military wasn’t the first option for Jonathon Hunter after high school.

He attended Indiana State University in Terre Haute for three semesters. There, he accepted an Air Force ROTC scholarship because he didn’t want to burden his family with paying for college, his father said.

At various times Jonathon Hunter pursued music and criminal justice degrees. For a while, he had dreams of becoming a recording producer, Mark Hunter said.

When he gave up on that career pursuit, however, Jonathon returned to Columbus, his dad said.

And on April 8, 2014, Jonathon put off plans to immediately finish college and gave his full commitment to the U.S. Army, his mother said.

“Jonathon always did well with a strong discipline … He recognized the military could do that for him and keep him focused,” his mother said. “He knew he needed a little more focus and discipline in his life.”

Mark Hunter said his family has had a tradition of military service since the Civil War, and that his son joined the Army with plans to complete college after serving his country.

Jonathon Hunter found success serving in the Army.

He earned his Expert Infantryman Badge late last year, and more recently had been promoted to sergeant, Kimberly Thompson said.

She said he was proud to serve as a mentor to the men under his command, but was humble about what he was doing.

“I would say, ‘What are you doing?’ He would say, ‘I’m just doing my job, protecting our country, protecting our freedom,'” his mother said.

Mark Hunter last saw his son when he came back home on leave in late June, he said.  Although they saw each other daily, Jonathon Hunter spent much of his time back in Columbus visiting with several old friends, he said.

The last time Kimberly Thompson talked with her son was July 18, she said.

“He just said, ‘I’m doing good, Mom, I’m just on a security detail,'” the mother said.

When Mark Hunter last talked with his son Saturday, his son told him he was interested in getting trained to become an Army Ranger.

Although Jonathon Hunter assured his father all was quiet prior to another security detail, he said “he was ready to do some fighting,” Mark Hunter said.

The father was scheduled to leave early this morning to drive to Dover Air Force Base, which houses Mortuary Affairs Operations.

Services and memorials are expected to be later scheduled according to the wishes of Kimberly Thompson, he said.

Kind person

While people will remember Jonathon Hunter’s service and sacrifice, he also was known or being a genuine person with a kind, warm soul, and dedicated to his family, his mother said.

“He had a contagious, infectious smile and laugh,” Kimberly Thompson said.

She added that he had a soft heart for people with special needs, too.

“He saw them as real people. He never saw color or social economic differences,” Kimberly Thompson said.

The Hunter file

Who: Jonathon Michael Hunter

What: Sergeant in the U.S. Army

Age: 23

Hometown: Columbus

School: 2011 graduate of Columbus East High School. Played both running back and defensive end for the East football team.

Military service: Joined Army April 8, 2014; served with 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborn Division stationed in Ft. Bragg, North Carolina

Family: Wife, Whitney Michelle Hunter; father, Mark Hunter; mother, Kimberly Thompson; stepfather, Brian Thompson; brother, Marcus Hunter; sisters Lindsey England, Kelsey Thompson; brother-in-law, Andy England; niece, Bailey England; nephew, Jordan Burton.