As a teenager, Sgt. Andrew Higgins was so devoted to pursuing a military career that he completed basic training while still a student at Kennedy High School in the East Bay community of Fremont, Calif.
He pursued his dream after graduation, first during two years in the Army Reserves and later during a nine-year stint in the Army, where he did tours in Afghanistan and Iraq. But the long deployments away from his family had begun to wear on him.
Before leaving for his second tour of Iraq, Higgins told his family that he planned to change careers when his enlistment was up in 2009. His future probably would have included working outdoors. While based at Ft. Lewis in Washington, he grew to love fishing on Puget Sound, where he befriended commercial fishermen.
“After three deployments in battle conditions, that was enough. He had decided to do something different,” said his father, Jerry James Higgins. “He would have gone to school to finish a four-year degree, and I wouldn’t have been surprised if he would have gone into fisheries or forestry or that kind of line.”
Higgins, 28, a native of Hayward, Calif., was killed June 5 in Baqubah, Iraq, when his elite Stryker brigade, part of the 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, came under small arms fire from insurgents, the Department of Defense said.
Tall, blond and husky, Higgins died in one of the most dangerous places in Iraq, a brigade commander said during a memorial service in Washington state.
The military offered no other details. His parents said they were told his unit had been in a firefight when he was shot in the head. He died instantly.
Higgins had been scheduled to return home in June but his stay was extended through the fall, officials said.
Although he grew up in Hayward, Higgins attended schools in Fremont because his mother, Cheryl Higgins, taught social studies and U.S. history there. Conversations between mother and son on their daily half-hour commute often involved history, which deepened his interest in seeing the world, his family said.
“He was one of those kids who knew the layouts of several countries. If somebody asked him how to get from one country to another, he could tell you all the countries in between,” said his father, who is retired from a staff position at San Francisco State. “The fact that his mother had his undivided attention for half an hour every day made a big difference.”
After graduating from Kennedy High School, he attended Chabot College in Hayward for a semester and worked at Tri-City Sporting Goods in Fremont, where he met his wife, a fellow employee. They married in 2001.
They enjoyed the outdoors and their dachshunds, Ludwig and Otto. Higgins was devoted to his fellow soldiers but did not speak often of his exploits. Jerry James Higgins only learned of his son’s five Army commendation medals after his death.
In recent years, Higgins and his wife, Rachel, lived in Washington state, but she returned home to Fremont during his latest deployment.
Higgins was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart during his funeral June 13 at a chapel in Fremont. He was buried at San Francisco National Cemetery in the Presidio.
In addition to his wife and parents, Higgins is survived by an aunt and uncle, Maureen and Gary Duquette of Chico, Calif.; and a cousin, Matthew Duquette of Walnut Creek, Calif.