A 26-year-old Marine Corps reservist from Arlington was killed in action by friendly fire in Afghanistan during a drone airstrike, U.S. military officials tell NBC News.
A Defense Department statement issued Thursday said Staff Sgt. Jeremy D. Smith, of Arlington, and Navy Corpsman Benjamin Rast, died Wednesday in combat in the Helmand province of southern Afghanistan.
On Monday, NBC learned they were killed by a Hellfire missile fired from a Predator drone.
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Smith and Rast were part of a Marine unit moving in to reinforce fellow Marines under heavy fire from enemy forces outside Sangin, NBC News reported.
The Marines under fire were watching streaming video of the battlefield being fed to them by an armed Predator overhead. They saw a number of "hot spots," or infrared images, moving in their direction. Apparently believing that those "hot spots" were the enemy, they called in a Hellfire missile strike from the Predator.
It's believed that this is the first time that U.S. service members have been killed by a Predator in a friendly fire incident, NBC News reported.
In Arlington, Smith's father said he forgives whoever made the tragic mistake.
"There's some kid working a joystick that pulled that trigger, and he's going to have to live with that the rest of his life," Jerry Smith said. "I, for one, if I had him standing here, I'd hug him. I'd tell him, 'Man, that stuff happens.' And I'm proud of him, because I promise you, he didn't go over there to kill my son. He went over there to save my son. And if he made a mistake, he made a mistake."
Smith served three tours of duty in Iraq before returning to North Texas to attend college. He continued in the reserves and arrived in Afghanistan about a month ago.
Smith's father said he's curious to learn more about the circumstances but said they won't change the tragic result.
"As far as I'm concerned, Jeremy died serving his country, and he was doing exactly what he wanted to do," Jerry Smith said. "He wouldn't have had it any other way."
Jeremy Smith was assigned to 1st Battalion, 23rd Marine Regiment, 4th Marine Division, Marine Forces Reserve based in Houston.
His funeral is will be held Friday at DFW National Cemetery.