In late March, Kennedy Johnston made a Facebook post about going to college to become a teacher. One of the first responses was from her big brother, U.S. Army Sgt. Michael Cable, who was serving in Afghanistan.
“Right on,” he wrote.
Kennedy, 19, knew she could always count on Michael’s support, as could their four siblings. In fact, Michael’s favorite activity was being there for his friends and family, as well as making them laugh.
“Whenever he did talk, it was always something funny,” Kennedy said. “He never really talked about anything negative.”
Sgt. Cable joined the Army in the summer of 2007. Three years later, he was stationed at Fort Campbell, located on Kentucky’s border with Tennessee, as a fire support specialist with the “Screaming Eagles” of the storied 101st Airborne Division.
“He’s always been driven for other people, not just himself,” the soldier’s sister said. “(He wanted) to be all he can be for everybody.”
When Michael first deployed to Iraq, his sister wasn’t worried.
“It wasn’t scary at all,” Kennedy said. “If there was anybody in the world who could have went to war and not had any problems, it would have been him.”
Sure enough, Michael returned home and spent time with his parents, grandparents, siblings and friends in Owensboro, Ky. Then, the soldier learned he would be deploying to Afghanistan in November 2012. Even though Kennedy knew she would miss her brother, she was similarly undaunted about his next combat deployment.
“I’ve never been worried ... I’ve never been concerned,” she said. “He’s the strongest person I’ve ever known and I didn’t think anything could happen.”
Kennedy communicated with Michael as often as possible while he served his country in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan.
“I talked to him a little on Christmas,” Kennedy said. “He sent me pictures and he commented on my Facebook statuses about going to college.”
Michael was particularly close with his grandparents, who heard from him almost every day. They were the first to sense the concern in the deployed soldier’s voice.
“He was telling them that he loved them over and over again,” Kennedy said. “You could tell it was way different than (Iraq).”
A few days after Michael’s “right on” comment on Facebook, his sister was taking a break in between classes when she noticed something strange.
“I looked at my phone and saw I had 12 missed calls,” she said. “My dad texted me and said, ‘Hey baby, I need you to call me as soon as you can.’”
When she called, her father told her to leave school and come home as soon as possible.
“I started having really bad anxiety attacks because I didn’t know what was going on,” she said.
Kennedy’s dad broke the news as soon as she walked into her grandparents’ house. Michael was dead.
According to the Department of Defense, Sgt. Michael Cable, 26, died on March 27, 2013, from injuries suffered during an attack in the Shinwar District of Afghanistan’s Nangarhar Province. The soldier was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart for the heroism he displayed during his deployment.
Speaking to The Unknown Soldiers on Michael’s 27th birthday, Kennedy courageously summoned her strength to describe two months of unimaginable confusion, pain and grief.
“We have people who don’t even know Michael or never even met Michael who are hurting,” she said. “It’s not just us.”
Some Americans may no longer be aware that American troops are still fighting a war in Afghanistan. That’s not the case in Owensboro, where the city and surrounding communities quickly rallied around the grieving family of Sgt. Michael Cable.
“It’s so appreciated that we can’t even put it into words,” Kennedy said. “People are coming in and hanging out with us because they don’t want us to be alone.”
I asked Kennedy how she wants her brother to be remembered.
“A hero,” she said. “But he’s not just a hero ... he’s a friend. He was there for everybody.”