A Marine from the Omaha area was killed Sunday fighting in southern Afghanistan's notorious Sangin District, making him the fifth soldier with Nebraska or Iowa ties to die during a horrific weekend in the war there.
Sgt. Joshua Robinson, a 29-year-old Marine who grew up near Nelson, Neb., and attended Omaha's Metro Community College, died after being shot twice in the chest during a combat patrol in Sangin.
He leaves behind a wife, Rhonda, and two sons, Wyatt, 5, and Kodiak, 4. The family currently resides in Bennington.
Robinson seemed the perfect Marine long before he enlisted, family members said Tuesday. He tracked and hunted animals starting in grade school. He excelled in nearly everything he tried, including a standout career as a prep wrestler when his family moved to Colorado.
And from a young age, family and friends said, he possessed a polite but self-assured demeanor — the perfect mindset for a teacher. Robinson eventually became a well-regarded Marine instructor, teaching younger Marines how to track enemy soldiers and survive in the mountains.
"He was born to be a Marine," said Scott Robinson, an uncle who lives in Hastings. "That's just how he carried himself. That's who he always was."
Robinson died in an area of Afghanistan that former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates called "the most dangerous place in the world."
The Marines have fought in Sangin District, a sliver of land surrounding a small southwestern Afghan city, since taking over the area from the British military last year.
Dozens of Marines have been killed in Sangin, and hundreds wounded, as they battle Taliban-allied insurgents for the key piece of southwestern Afghanistan territory. The Sangin District is notorious for its poppy fields, which produce the main ingredient in heroin and earn untold millions of dollars for insurgents and Afghan warlords.
It's also known for a hydroelectric dam that could power much of southern Afghanistan — and give American and NATO forces a much-needed public relations victory — if the area were safer and the plant and local electric grid could be improved.
Robinson likely had no problem going to Afghanistan's most dangerous district. His uncle said he routinely took on the tough assignments and completed them.
He wanted to be a Marine, so he did that, his uncle said. He wanted to become a sniper, so he did that. Then he wanted to train other Marines on the finer points of warfare and survival, so he did that, too.
Robinson developed an enemy-tracking course that's believed to be one of the first of its kind in American military history, his family said.
He also taught sniper courses and mountain survival at the Mountain Warfare Training Center in Bridgeport, Calif.
Robinson deployed three times to Iraq before shipping to Afghanistan in April, according to a letter written by family members.
He expected to be back in October to reunite with his wife and two sons, who are already learning how to track wild game.
Instead, two Marines and a Navy chaplain appeared at Rhonda Robinson's door earlier this week.
Sgt. Robinson is to be buried in Hastings, but the day and time of the memorial service haven't yet been determined, Scott Robinson said.
Robinson's death came Sunday, just a day after four service members with local ties — three Navy SEALs and a Nebraska National Guardsman — were killed when an insurgent shot down a Chinook helicopter. Thirty Americans and eight Afghans died in the downed helicopter, making it easily the Afghan war's single deadliest attack.
Robinson's death also makes last weekend the bloodiest two days for Nebraska and Iowa during the entire decade of the post-9/11 wars.
In fact, no more than five local troops have died during any single week of the Iraqi and Afghan wars.
The troops with Nebraska and Iowa ties who died Saturday, in the Chinook helicopter attack:
» Johnny Douangdara, a graduate of South Sioux City (Neb.) High School and Navy SEAL dog handler. The 26-year-old son of Laotian immigrants joined the Navy right after his 2003 high school graduation.
» Matthew Mason, 37, a member of the vaunted Navy SEAL Team Six. Mason, whose wife is from Omaha, was badly wounded in the 2004 Battle of Fallujah but worked his way back into the top shape required by the elite military unit.
» Sgt. Patrick Hamburger of Grand Island, a 30-year-old Nebraska National Guardsmen who was serving on the downed Chinook's flight crew. Hamburger had been in Afghanistan only since July as part of a National Guard unit trained to fly transport helicopters.
» Jon Tumilson, a 35-year-old Navy SEAL from Rockford in north-central Iowa. Tumilson had told friends and relatives he was thinking of retiring as a SEAL.
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