As U.S. exits Afghanistan, American soldiers still making ultimate sacrifice

(CBS News) KILLEEN, Texas -- The war in Afghanistan is winding down, but Americans are still fighting and dying there. Four were killed on the very day last month that the U.S. handed control of the country's security to the Afghan army and police. Among them: Ember Alt.

Charles Alt was in Afghanistan working as a civilian contractor when he got the call about his daughter, 21-year-old Army Spc. Ember Alt. She was stationed in Afghanistan, too, just a couple of hours away from him.

Charles Alt
Charles Alt CBS News

"They took me to the mortuary, and I viewed the body, and I didn't want to believe what I saw," he remembers. "They told me she was killed from a rocket attack. ... They told me she didn't suffer at all, which was a big relief."

Spc. Alt had worked as a mechanic at Bagram Air Base.

"She told me a couple of times that it is scary out there, but she also said she knew what her job was," Charles Alt says. "And she had to do her job to the best of her ability."

There was a special tribute to Alt by her fellow soldiers at Bagram before her father accompanied her home.

"Felt like the longest flight of my life," he says. "But I am thankful that I was over there to be able to escort her home. To bring my little girl home."

Ember Alt
Ember Alt CBS News

Charles Alt was with her when she was brought in to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. A week later, she was home in Killeen, Texas, where family and friends mourned her. It was June 28, the day Ember Alt would have turned 22.

The next day, she was buried with full military honors. Four family members received flags: her husband, father, mother and stepmother. Each one was presented on behalf of a grateful nation."

Zsuzsa Mae Deloso and Imani Dunn attended the burial. They met Ember on the track team at Killeen High School, and were best friends.

"I never in a million years would imagine losing her at such a young age," Deloso says.

"Not a day is going to go by that I don't thank her, wake up in the morning and thank her for sacrificing her life for me," Dunn says. "A story that I could actually tell my children. My best friend died so that you can live the life that you live."

"She's always going to be my little girl, always," Charles Alt says.

Asked what he wants people to know about his daughter, he replies, "That she was willing to give everything. I want her to be their hero, as well as mine."

Charles Alt hopes his daughter's death serves as a reminder that even as the war in Afghanistan winds down, American troops continue to make the ultimate sacrifice.

  • Elaine Quijano

    Elaine Quijano was named a CBS News correspondent in January 2010. Quijano reports for "CBS This Morning" and the "CBS Evening News," and contributes across all CBS News platforms. She is based in New York.