Army Staff Sgt. Robert Johnson, 23, Seaside; Killed in Mess Tent Blast

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Robert Johnson could have easily chosen to stay home after high school.

He was surrounded by family and friends in his hometown of Seaside, Calif., and in line to take over his family’s heating and air-conditioning business. In every way, he was set up to lead a comfortable life.

He chose a military life instead, enlisting in the Army at 18 and going first to Korea, then Iraq.

“He wanted to serve his country,” said his father, Peter Johnson of Castro Valley, Calif. “It was his own decision and I supported it. I told him, ‘Just come home to me.’ ”

Johnson, 23, was among 22 people killed Dec. 21 when a man, apparently dressed in an Iraqi military uniform, set off a suicide bomb in a mess tent near Mosul in the deadliest attack yet at a U.S. base in Iraq.

A staff sergeant and chemical operations specialist, Johnson was stationed at Ft. Lewis, Wash., and was one of six soldiers from that base killed in the attack. All six, members of the fort’s elite Stryker Brigade, were honored last week in a tear-filled memorial service at the base.

At the service, friends and family remembered Johnson as a stickler for detail who loved basketball, football and all music, from classical to hip-hop. And they remembered him as a serious soldier, one proud of his mission in the Middle East.

“He felt he was making a difference in the lives of the people in Iraq,” 1st Sgt. Carlon Addison said.

Peter Johnson said in an interview he will remember the basketball games he played with his boy, banging bodies under the backboard at their home.

Johnson said he’ll remember the 30-minute showers his son used to take, the way he kept his room and clothes neat and orderly even before he joined the Army, and the way his face would light up when he drove his customized, fire-engine red pickup truck.

Johnson said he couldn’t be prouder of his son and soldiers like him.

“I’m appreciative of all of their efforts and every breath they have given for our freedom,” he said.

“Robert believed in what he was doing. And he was willing to sacrifice his life for people he knew and didn’t know in this country,” Johnson said.


Associated Press contributed to this report.