More than three and half years after Army Sgt. 1st Class Kenneth W. Westbrook died of injuries sustained in an Afghanistan ambush, his widow Charlene Westbrook and sons were posthumously presented his Silver Star for gallantry and a second Combat Infantryman Badge Friday at Fort Benning .
“This day means a lot,” Charlene said minutes before Maj. Gen. H. R. McMaster presented the awards during a ceremony at Derby Auditorium, McGinnis-Wickam Hall. “It feels like it’s a long time coming. It’s been three and half years since he paid the ultimate sacrifice.”
Westbrook, 41, was assigned to 1st Brigade, 1st Infantry Division at Fort Riley, Kan., when he was wounded Sept. 8, 2009, from small arms and other weapons in the Ganjgal, Valley. A unit with American and Afghan personnel was ambushed by insurgents with rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and machine gun fire.
Westbrook placed himself in the line of enemy fire while firing back and marking enemy positions with tracer fire. His actions allowed Afghan National Army and the Afghan Border Police to eliminate several enemy positions although he was seriously wounded during the battle.
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He died Oct. 7, 2009, at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
While her husband has been recognized, she said the process was frustrating. “The award packet would show up on someone’s desk on state side and somehow ended up in theater and come back to the states,” she said. “So it was a cat and mouse game for a while but through it all I persevered and never gave up.”
The ceremony was held at Fort Benning because it is the post where Westbrook completed basic training and advanced individual, training after graduating from Shiprock High School in Shiprock, N.M.
“I met my husband when I was 13 and he asked me what I wanted to do as career,” she said. “I said I don’t know. He from the very beginning said I’m going to be an infantryman and he came to basic training here. This place, it meant so much to him. He was so proud to be an infantryman for 22 years.”