Hundreds packed into Joint Base Lewis-McChords Lewis North Chapel, Nov. 7, to honor the life of Sgt. Robert J. Billings, a Clarksville, Va., native who died Oct. 13, in Spin Boldak, Afghanistan, of wounds inflicted by an improvised explosive device.
The majority of those in attendance were still clad in their Afghanistan-theater-specific multi-camouflage uniforms, as Billings unit the 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division has recently begun returning to JBLM after a 12-month deployment.
Fierce warrior, competent leader, faithful husband, loving father and loyal friend some would label this a perfect balance, others the ideal Soldier, said Capt. Thomas Gossweiler, who spoke on behalf of Lt. Col. Steven Soika, 5-20 Inf. commander. Lets cut to the chase. Its the personification of Sgt. Robert Billings, a member of our team who we honor today, who constantly exemplified these traits; a quiet professional who gave 100 percent to his loving family, our profession and America.
Billings, who was previously assigned to and had deployed to Iraq with 4th Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, was informed that NCOs were needed to fill the ranks for the Arrowhead Brigades deployment to Afghanistan. Billings didnt hesitate to volunteer. With the support of his wife, he was transferred to 1st Squadron, 14th Cavalry Regiment, in 3rd Brigade, and later to 5-20 Inf.
He was looked upon by the younger Soldiers as a role model in central Zahray, Soika wrote. Sergeant Billings coached, taught and mentored young Soldiers in their tradecraft around villages called Kolk, Painkilla and Mulliyan. Even in the end, he was leading by example, negotiating the Stryker along that stretch of road near the Pasha Pass on that patrol, based on his experience in the area and (his) mastery of the vehicle.
Soika wrote of the life Billings had planned to live following his return from deployment a life outside the Army, where he would be able to focus on his wife, Christy, and their four children ranging in age from 3 to 10. This life also included a business plan with Billings best friend and squad leader, Staff Sgt. Daniel Garcia. The two had planned to open their own brewery after realizing a passion for home brewery a few years back, Garcia said.
Garcia and Billings met in Georgia five years ago on a staff duty shift. The two, as Garcia recalled to the crowd, hit it off instantly. At the time, Garcia and his wife were expecting their first child. Billings and Christy, who already had three kids of their own, were there to help the new parents. Garcia and Billings reenlisted to come to JBLM together, and Garcia joined Billings on his assignment to 4th Bde., 2nd Inf. Div. Both deployed to Iraq from 2009 to 2010, and Garcia joined his best friend on his Afghanistan tour.
I know we would always joke around, saying that if its your time to go, its your time to go no matter what. But you werent supposed to take that to heart, brother, Garcia recalled, his voice quivering. He had to clear his throat.
Throughout his speech Garcia often spoke directly to Billings, and through Garcias words the crowd was shown the personal side of Billings. Garcia told of a son who deeply loved his mother and idolized his father, a 20-year Navy veteran; a husband and father who, first, thought of his family before himself; and a carefree person who loved life.
Lets not forgot what Bobby would be saying right now if we could hear him: Get over it, Garcia said, as attendees nodded and laughed in agreement.
Rather than getting over it, Garcia promised to always remember the man, the brother, he saw as his own flesh and blood.
I ... would not hesitate for a second to lay down my life just to be able to bring you back. I feel so lost without you, he said, gazing upward. The world isnt the same without you.
Sergeant Robert J. Billings was born April 22, 1982, in Oxnard, Calif. Billings moved to Morley, Mich., as a child and graduated from Morley Stanwood High School, in Deerfield Township, Mich., in 2001. He later moved to Virginia, where he met his wife, and joined the Army as an 11B infantryman.
He attended Basic Training and Advanced Individual Training at Fort Benning, Ga., and was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade 4th Infantry Divison, at Fort Carson, Colo. He transferred to Georgia, where he worked at the Ranger Training Brigade. In 2009, he was assigned to Joint Base Lewis-McChords 4th Bde., 2nd. Inf. Div., and deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom from September 2009 to August 2010. In October 2011, he was assigned to 3rd Bde., 2nd Inf. Div., and deployed as a team leader in support of Operation Enduring Freedom 2011 to 2012.
Growing up the son of a career Sailor, Billings grandmother, Elaine Billings, said wanting to serve started young for her grandson. He liked the paintball game. However, not many of the neighborhood children appreciated it.
It was no surprise he volunteered to serve our nation during a time of war. He did nothing more than continue the legacy of selfless service that was begun by his grandfathers and continued with his father, said Lt. Col. Steve Soika, Billings commander in 5-20 Inf. Billings best friend and squad leader, Staff Sgt. Daniel Garcia, recalled conversations with Billings about growing up with a father who was constantly away because of military obligations; Billings was not happy about his fathers absence and, Garcia said, he was often resentful of it as a child.
However, it wasnt until Billings had a family of his own that he realized what it takes to be a great father and the sacrifices (he) made for them, Garcia said. At his memorial, Garcia told Billings dad that in so many ways, he looked up to you and just wanted to make you proud.
Billings military awards and decorations include the Bronze Star Medal, Purple Heart Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Army Achievement Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal with Bronze Campaign Star, Iraq Campaign Medal with Bronze Campaign Star, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, NCO Professional Development Ribbon, NATO Medal, and the Combat Infantryman Badge.
He is survived by his wife, Christy, sons, Isaiah and Elijah, daughters, Kaili and Naomi, and parents, Kelly and Hope Billings.