One of six U.S. service members killed in Afghanistan by a suicide bomb attack Monday was from Minnesota. Those mourning her Tuesday said she was the first openly gay American woman killed in combat.
Air Force Maj. Adrianna M. Vorderbruggen’s hometown was listed as Plymouth, according to military records. She had been living near Washington, D.C., with her wife and their 4-year-old son.
Vorderbruggen, 36, was assigned to the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, 9th Field Investigations Squadron, at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. The attack, by a bomber who rammed an explosives-laden motorcycle into a joint NATO-Afghan patrol, was the deadliest on international forces there since August.
Her death was announced by the Military Partners and Families Coalition, a group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender military families.
The coalition said Vorderbruggen and her family were part of the group nearly from its start in 2010.
“As today marks five years since the repeal of ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ was signed, we honor the anniversary with somber hearts and the knowledge that families like Major Vorderbruggen’s no longer serve in the shadows,” the statement said. It described Vorderbruggen as “one of the most friendly and laid-back people you could ever hope to meet.”
Vorderbruggen met her wife, Air Force veteran Heather Lamb, after crossing paths in the service. Each fought to repeal the ban on gays openly serving in the military, said friend Tracey Hepner-Smith. That policy was lifted in 2011.
Hepner-Smith met Lamb while canvassing members of Congress to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and sharing anecdotes about how the law hurt service members.
“They worked to make not only the life of their family better, but also all military families,” said Hepner-Smith, co-founder of the coalition.
Like most gay service members, Vorderbruggen hid aspects of her personal life before the termination of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
When the couple could no longer be feasibly co-located under the policy, they decided one of them would have to leave the military in order to start a family, Hepner-Smith said.
Lamb made that choice and became pregnant with their son, Jacob. While preparing for the birth, Vorderbruggen had to guess when to take her leave because she couldn’t tell her superiors that her partner would be in labor.
They married in June 2012.
“Her wife and her son were the center of her life — and her service,” Hepner-Smith said. “She sacrificed a great deal; they both did. She gave her life full measure.”
Vorderbruggen was a 1998 graduate of Wayzata High School, where she was a talented athlete and a three-year starter on the women’s soccer team. She graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy in 2002 and later earned a master’s degree in forensic sciences at George Washington University, according to her social media accounts.
By 2010, Vorderbruggen tapped that knowledge to become a special agent for the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, which investigates felony-level crimes in the U.S. and overseas.
Her father, Joseph Vorderbruggen, told the Associated Press that his daughter “loved life” and “loved the military.” He said: “Whatever goal she had, she found a way.”
Staff writer Vince Tuss and the Associated Press contributed to this report.