MORLEY, Mich. (WOOD) - A 2001 graduate of Morley Stanwood High School has been killed in Afghanistan, according to the Department of Defense.
US Army Sgt. Robert J. Billings and his unit were attacked with an improvised explosive device (IED) in Spin Boldak on Oct. 12. He died the next day from his injuries.
The 30-year-old was assigned to the 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington.
The military was in Billings' blood -- both his father and grandfather served.
On Tuesday, Robert E. and Elaine Billings were still coming to grips with the fact that they'll never speak with their grandson again.
"Knew maybe one day it would happen because it's so rough over there and we've been losing so many of them. I'd like to see them all come home," said Robert E.
It had been nearly 10 years since the Billings had seen their grandson in person. Robert spent the last eight years in the US Army doing tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
He was living in Virginia but was based in Washington state, where his wife and four children live. His mother and father live in Texas.
"They took it hard," said Elaine. "They were very close."
The Billings reflected back to when Robert was just a boy playing in the woods around their Newyago County home. They played paintball, Elaine said.
Robert Billings is the second soldier in the same Morley Stanwood class of 2001 to die in combat. His classmate, Matthew Webber, was killed while serving in Iraq in 2006.
"Both kids were very positive," said former Morley Stanwood High School Principal Dennis Szczerowski. "Very positive kids."
Szczerowski is still trying to make sense of it all as he considers the two heroes from the same small town that made the ultimate sacrifice for the greater good.
"They gave their lives for all of these freedoms that we have," said Szczerowski. "It's still upsetting,"
Robert Billings was set to come home from his latest tour in just 30 days.
Funeral arrangements are still pending, but his grandparents say he will be buried in Virginia.
Members of the U.S. armed forces with known Michigan ties who have died in 2012 supporting military operations in Afghanistan:
-- Army Sgt. Robert J. Billings, 30, a 2001 graduate of Morley-Stanwood High School in Mecosta County, Mich., and a resident of Clarksville, Va., died Oct. 13 when insurgents attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device in Spin Boldak, Afghanistan. He was assigned to the 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.
-- Army Pfc. Shane W. Cantu, 20, of Corunna died Aug. 28 in Charkh of wounds suffered when he was hit by shrapnel. Cantu was assigned to 1st Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, Caserma Ederle, Vicenza, Italy.
-- Navy Petty Officer David J. Warsen, 27, of Kentwood was among seven Americans and four Afghans killed in a Black Hawk helicopter crash northeast of Kandahar, Afghanistan, on Aug. 16. He was assigned to a West Coast-based naval Special warfare unit.
-- Army 1st Lt. Todd Lambka, 25, of Fraser died Aug. 1, in Paktika province from injuries suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated. Lambka was assigned to 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division at Fort Riley, Kan.
-- Army Spc. Kyle McClain, 25, of Macomb County's Shelby Township, died Aug. 1, in Salim Aka. McClain was assigned to 1433rd Engineer Company, 507th Engineer Battalion, 177th Military Police Brigade in Kalamazoo.
-- Marine Gunnery Sgt. Daniel Price, 27, of Holland, was killed July 29 while conducting combat operations in Badghis province Afghanistan.
-- Marine Sgt. Justin Hansen, 26, a 2003 graduate of Kingsley High School, died July 24 after being shot while sweeping a house in Afghanistan.
-- Army Staff Sgt. Matthew J. Leach, 29, of Ferndale died June 26 in Kandahar, Afghanistan. The cause of death wasn't immediately announced. He was part of the 1/334th Regiment, 1st Brigade, 104th Training Division based in Fraser.
-- Marine Pfc. Steven P. Stevens II, 23, of Detroit died June 22 while conducting combat operations in Helmand province. He was assigned to the 1st Combat Engineer Battalion, 1st Marine Division, I Marine Expeditionary Force at Camp Pendleton, Calif.
-- Army Sgt. Joseph Lilly, 25, of Flint died June 14 from injuries he sustained June 12 when he was hit by an improvised explosive device while on patrol in Afghanistan. He was a combat engineer serving with the 18th Engineer Company from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.
-- Army Spc. Vilmar Galarza Hernandez, 21, of Salinas, Calif., died May 26 in in Kandahar province when enemy forces attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device. His wife is from Muskegon, Mich. He was assigned to the 4th Battalion, 23rd Infantry Regiment of the 2nd Stryker Brigade Combat Team of the 2nd Infantry Division at Joint
Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state.
-- Army Capt. Bruce Kevin Clark, 43, a former resident of Spencerport, N.Y, and Addison, Mich., died May 1 in Tarin Kowt. He was a nurse assigned to A Company, Troop Command at William Beaumont Army Medical Center in El Paso, Texas. His wife was in Texas chatting with him via Skype when he collapsed.
-- Air Force Tech. Sgt. Matthew S. Schwartz, 34, of Traverse City was killed Jan. 5 along with two other airmen when insurgents attacked their vehicle with an improvised explosive device in Helmand province. He was part of the 90th Civil Engineer Squadron from F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyo.
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