He was only 18, but Justin Johnson knew that summer of 2006 he would be making a big decision.
As a South Fork High School graduate, the Hobe Sound resident had two paths to choose from — going to college or enlisting in the military.
Johnson’s aunt, Alison Harris, said it was a tough decision for her young nephew, but “after giving it careful consideration,” the teenager followed the footsteps of his maternal grandfather, a Korean War veteran, and joined the Army.
Johnson spent seven years in the Army, which included two deployments to Afghanistan and a tour through Haiti shortly after the 2010 earthquake. But on Tuesday, he and three other service members were killed in a mortar attack at Bagram Air Base outside Kabul, Afghanistan.
Johnson, 25, a sergeant with the 10th Transportation Battalion, 7th Sustainment Brigade stationed in Fort Eustis, Va., was standing at a bus stop when the attack took place, Harris said. In this second deployment to Afghanistan, he served as mission commander for the “Night-Riders” convoy escort team.
“We just want to honor him and his memory, knowing that he died doing something that he loved,” Harris added.
Johnson’s mother, Hobe Sound resident Sonia Randolph, was to travel to Dover Air Force Base on Thursday to meet with military officials and receive her son’s body, Harris said.
Harris described her nephew as an easy-going and helpful man. He loved serving his country, despite its risks, she said.
“He just enjoyed it. He formed an extended family where he was stationed.”
After enlisting in July 2006, Johnson completed basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C. and advanced training at Fort Eustis.
His first assignment was to the 7th Sustainment Brigade in January 2007, when he served as an assistant convoy commander during his first deployment to northern Afghanistan.
He also served in Iraq in 2008. Among his military accolades were the Purple Heart, the Bronze Star and the Army Commendation Medal.
As a boy growing up in Hobe Sound, Johnson played in almost every youth sport, including baseball. Harris said he never gave his mother any problems, and was very giving.
“If you were feeling down and you weren’t in a good mood, Justin was the person who got you out of that,” Harris recalled.
“He was always a positive young man. If he could help you with anything, he would.”
Johnson had a 4-year-old son, Justin Jr., who lives with his mother in Virginia Beach, Harris said.