Roger Lee had settled into a happy life on California’s Central Coast with his girlfriend, infant daughter and a good job working as an auto mechanic — yet he longed for one thing more.
“He wasn’t fully satisfied,” said his brother Linstun. “He wanted to serve his nation. He had wanted to do it since he was 10 years old.”
On July 6, three years after quitting his job at the car dealership, Lee’s platoon was on patrol in Qalat in southeast Afghanistan when a powerful roadside bomb tore his vehicle apart. The explosion killed him and two other members of the 1st Battalion, 4th Infantry Regiment based in Hohenfels, Germany — Staff Sgt. Marc A. Arizmendez, 30, of Anaheim, and Pfc. Michael S. Pridham, 19, of Louisville, Ky.
“He had a passion for everything. Everything he did, he put his heart and soul into it. He would get everything done for others before he would take care of himself,” said his childhood friend Joe Solis, 27, who worked alongside Lee at a grocery store and remembers play-fighting in the parking lot after their shifts.
“Roger had a lot of passion for martial arts and combat-style sports,” Solis said. “I think that’s what drew him to the military.”
Linstun Lee said his younger brother, an Army specialist, found the military rewarding, even if his phone calls home sometimes conveyed a growing sense of unease with his mission.
The first trouble came two years ago during his first tour in Afghanistan. He was on patrol in a Humvee when a roadside bomb exploded, killing Lee’s driver and translator.
Lee called his brother and said, “Hey man, if the Red Cross come to your house, don’t worry.”
“Hey, I think you overcome the worst part,” his brother recalls replying.
But on the second tour — just months after marrying his wife, Evilina — Lee told his brother that the mission had seemed to become even more perilous.
“They were going to uncharted territories and stretching the boundaries of the American presence,” Linstun Lee said.
“He felt that they weren’t really making an impact because the insurgents were running to Pakistan, where the Americans couldn’t go. That’s the problem: the limitations, the rules of war.”
On June 30, Lee called his brother for the last time.
“Hey bro, I’m not going to lie to you, it’s pretty sketchy,” Linstun Lee recalled him saying, with fear creeping into his voice.
A week later, Lee was traveling in an MRAP, or mine resistant ambush protected vehicle, heavily fortified to withstand roadside bombs. But the explosion was too strong.