Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Courtney T. Johnson dies 'of wounds sustained when insurgents attacked his unit with indirect fire'

Army Spc. Courtney Tremayne Johnson, the 25-year-old Raleigh soldier killed in Iraq last week, was a family man, his relatives said Saturday.

The son, father, fiance, brother to two and cousin to many was soon to be an uncle.

"We had plans to raise our kids together," said his sister, Rikkia Jordan, 33, who is five months pregnant.

The Department of Defense said Johnson was killed in Besmaya, Iraq, on Wednesday when insurgents attacked his unit with indirect fire.

Johnson was assigned to the 3rd Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Benning, Ga.

He is the third Raleigh soldier and the 85th North Carolinian to die in the Iraq war, according to icasualties.org, which keeps track of the numbers. Only 11 states have had more fatalities.

Johnson's deployment was to last until May 2008, but he was planning a two-week late-summer trip home to the family he hadn't seen since March.

An Army man, he also was a former Marine, his relatives said. He had enlisted in the Marines soon after graduating from Southeast Raleigh High. He joined the Army after a brief hiatus.

"He loved military life," Jordan said. "He wanted to make a better life for his son."

"And his whole family," added Robyn Hicks, 23, Johnson's fiancee.

Johnson's son, Camyz Powell, is 18 months old.

Hicks said she spoke to Johnson two or three times a week by phone and through e-mail while he was deployed.

She and many of Johnson's relatives gathered in Southeast Raleigh on Saturday afternoon on the front porch of his mother's home, where an American flag stood out of a bed of white flowers by the door. Cars piled onto the street as relatives and friends stopped by for comfort and conversation.

They said Johnson was lovable and enjoyed dancing and playing pranks on people. He was a father figure for his younger brother, Trevor, 17, and tried hard to keep his family together.

"He was a dreamer," said cousin Claude Gibbs, 46. "He had high expectations for what he wanted out of life."

In high school, Johnson played basketball as a point guard. He would spend hours daily at a local community center mentoring children there and coaching them in basketball, softball and karate.

It was also in high school that he met Hicks.

"They're high school sweethearts," said Johnson's mother, Asondra Johnson.

The two met in a gym class. Hicks said Johnson was sitting alone and something about him made her want to know more.

"I think what made him different from a lot of guys was he didn't have a problem with compromise," Hicks said. They were engaged close to Christmas in 2003. A wedding date had not been set.

Johnson enjoyed surfing the Internet, watching movies with his mom and fixing things around the house.

"We used to call him 'Little MacGyver'," Asondra Johnson said. "He loved taking things apart and putting them back together."

Asondra Johnson lives in a three- or four-year-old neighborhood of mostly Habitat for Humanity homes, a number of which Courtney Johnson helped build, his sister said.

He liked books about finance and history, paid special care to his appearance, loved to flash his smile and didn't like admitting there was something he couldn't do, relatives said.

Johnson's relatives all smiled or let out a laugh as they tried to find a way to describe him.

"It would be very hard to describe him in one way," Gibbs said. "He was so multidimensional."

Relatives said Johnson also loved to travel. He enjoyed the fast pace of New York and took photos of Italy and Greece in his Marine days.

Asondra Johnson said her son's commander in Iraq told her that her son kept up the unit's morale and that his peers were "really, really devastated by what happened."

His military awards include the National Defense Service Medal, the Iraq Campaign Medal and the Army Service Medal. He has been awarded a Purple Heart posthumously.

From the News Observer