FARMINGTON — Though U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Kenneth Westbrook died from wounds he received in combat more than four years ago, the Shiprock native's actions still are being honored.

Westbrook died Oct. 7, 2009, at the age of 41 from wounds he suffered a month prior in Afghanistan's Ganjgal Valley. He was transported to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., where he later died.

His family today is accepting one of the top medals given out by the Army — the Silver Star — on behalf of Westbrook. The Silver Star is the Army's third highest medal given for gallantry, according to a Thursday Army press. Only the Distinguished Service Cross and the Medal of Honor are ranked higher.

Westbrook's widow, Charlene, and their three sons, Zachary, Joshua and Joseph, are accepting the award. The ceremony will be held this morning at Fort Benning, Ga., where Westbrook trained.

Westbrook enlisted in the Army in 1987, following in the footsteps of his father, Marshall Westbrook, Sr.

Westbrook's brother, Marshall Westbrook, Jr. also served in the Army. He died in October 2005, four years and six days earlier, when a bomb detonated near his Humvee in Baghdad, Iraq.

Kenneth Westbrook was wounded shortly thereafter when, on Sept. 8, 2009, he was approaching the village of Ganjgal, where American and Afghan personnel were working together.


Westbrook was caught in an ambush, according to an Army account of the incident.

While taking fire from rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and machine guns, and without cover or concealment, Westbrook moved to return fire at the enemy, the Army reported.

By marking enemy positions with tracer fire, Westbrook enabled the Afghan National Army and the Afghan Border Police to eliminate several enemy positions, the Army reported. Despite being seriously wounded, he continued to engage targets and direct his Afghan counterparts.

"How much can one family bear?" said Blue Star mother Karen Stevens at the time of Westbrook's funeral in October 2009, commenting on the loss of two brothers in one family.

Westbrook's actions are the reason his family is receiving the medal.

At the time of his death, Westbrook was assigned to a military transition team from 1st Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, based at Fort Riley, Kan., and was serving as an advisor to the Afghan Border Police.

He had served in the Army for 22 years and planned to retire when he returned from the Afghanistan deployment.

Westbrook and his brother were proud of their Navajo heritage and both were known as local athletes.

Westbrook was the 10th Navajo to die in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2004, according to the Navajo Nation. He was the third Navajo soldier to die in Afghanistan since 2004.

Jenny Kane can be reached at; 505-564-4636. Follow her on Twitter @Jenny_Kane