Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Justin Rollins reported killed in Iraq

NEWPORT - "There is no greater honor than to be buried in Arlington Cemetery," Justin Rollins, 22, had told his father recently in a call home from Iraq. Now, Skip Rollins will honor his son's request after the 22-year-old was killed Monday in a bomb attack in the Iraqi province of Salahuddin.

Rollins was among six soldiers who died when the bomb exploded near their vehicles during combat operations.

Scores of family and friends were at the Rollins home on Tuesday grieving the loss of a beloved son, friend and a fiancée to Brittney Murray.

"It's the support that means so much," Skip Rollins said. "The phone never stops ringing."

Justin, a 2003 Newport High School graduate, was scheduled to come home in about three weeks when he planned to propose to his longtime girlfriend Brittney Murray.

"We love Brittany like she was our own daughter," Skip Rollins said. "We were looking forward to having her as our daughter-in-law."

Rollins said his son had recently purchased a 3-carat diamond ring to present to Murray when he came home.

"He was going to come home and ask her to marry him," Rollins said. "She was his first and only true love."

Rollins said his son wanted to be in the Army and in Iraq to be with his men.

"You couldn't hold him back. He had to be there."

Justin, a specialist assigned to the 2/505 3rd Brigade of the 82 Airborne as an infantryman, was recently promoted to squad sniper.

"The Army gave him a dinky little scope," Rollins said. "He went out and spent $600 of his own money so he could shoot farther."

According to his father, Justin was picked from the top 10 percent of his class to go to recruiter's school. Justin told his father that he didn't want a cushy job and instead wanted to be with his men.

"He kicked and screamed and wanted to be in Iraq," his dad said.

Rollins was sent to Iraq on Aug. 8 and two weeks after arriving he was involved in his first firefight with three insurgents. According to his father, Justin fought the insurgents by himself and told his men to take cover so they wouldn't get hurt.

"That's the kind of soldier he was."

Justin's parents, Skip and Rhonda, last saw their son on Aug. 8 when they took a trip with Murray to Ft. Bragg, N.C., to see him off to the Middle East. Justin was scheduled to have a two-week break in March or April and then be rotated out of Iraq in August.

Skip Rollins said he expects to have his son home within five to 10 days at which time the family will hold a service in Newport. After the service, Justin will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

The Rollins family was notified Monday by the Army of Justin's death.

"I saw them walk up the driveway," Skip Rollins said. "When I saw them, I knew."

The flag at Newport Middle High School was lowered to half-staff on Tuesday. A constant stream of family and friends came to the Rollins home throughout the day to offer their support.

"He had a great heart, and he was a wonderful young man," teacher Kathryn Hanson, a close family friend, told WMUR-TV.

Hanson said one of the things that stood out about Rollins was his smile.

"He might have been a little bit mischievous, but when you had him in class and you saw him, he would turn on his smile and his charm, and it washed away anything else," she said.

School staff said Rollins had visited some of his teachers after basic training - and they noticed a difference in him immediately.

"It brought about a change and a purpose, I think, that was very important to him," Hanson said. "He found what he was supposed to do, and he was extremely proud of what he was doing."

Hanson said Rollins was a gunner on a Humvee and had a close call in December when he was injured by a roadside bomb.

"You hope you will be one of the towns or one of the cities to escape such a tragedy, but unfortunately, we're not," Hanson said.

Prior to his death, Justin was seriously injured on Nov. 26 when he was out on patrol as a gunner in a Humvee. While driving through Samarra, Iraq, a roadside bomb exploded, sending him flying through the air. He landed in the back of the Humvee.

"He had shrapnel in his neck and arm and was bleeding bad," Rhonda Rollins said at the time.

Justin's fellow soldiers took him to the hospital where doctors removed the shrapnel and stitched him back together.

He was given a morphine drip and sent back to base. Within a few days he was back at work before any of the stitches were removed. In less than two weeks he was back on patrol.

Skip Rollins said his son was supposed to take two weeks off because of the injuries, but Justin told his dad he needed to be there for his men.

"It was all about the band of brothers," Skip Rollins said. "All the kids were so tight. They were there for each other."

Justin was awarded the Purple Heart for the Nov. 26 incident. Skip Rollins said his son was also awarded a second Purple Heart, the Bronze Star and the combat infantry badge.

"Last year he earned his expert infantry badge," Skip Rollins said. "True-blue. Without any failures."

According to Rhonda, Justin enjoyed being a soldier and had taken a liking to the Iraqi children. She said during an interview in December that Justin wore a Mickey Mouse patch on his uniform and gave candy to the children.

"We're very proud of him and we'll miss him," Skip Rollins said.

From the Eagle