Marine Corps Sgt. Johanny Rosario was one of Lawrence’s best.
Less than two weeks ago, on the day she returned to Afghanistan to help the last Americans and allies flee a country falling under Taliban control, Rosario sent off a message to her former officer-in-charge, Capt. Austin Keeley.
The deputy director of the Marine Corps recruiters school in San Diego, California, Keeley later described a note in which Rosario, 25, whom he knew as “Sgt. Rosie” from their 15 months serving together, talked about the pride she felt in her deployment, and redeployment.
Rosario anticipated leaving active service next year and wrote, “I would leave feeling accomplished and happy that I was able to do and experience the things I wanted.”
In a Facebook post on Aug. 30 — four days after Rosario and a dozen other U.S. service members were killed in a suicide bombing — Keeley found nuance in the wording of her message: Rosario wrote that she “got to deploy.”
“She didn’t have to deploy, she got to deploy,” he noted. “To Rosie, service was a privilege.”
Indeed, for Rosario, according to those close to her, the importance of serving her family, friends and community permeated most every aspect of her life.
Rosalinda Rosario described a beautiful, bright and driven big sister. She was intent on becoming a social worker shielding children from abuse, her younger sister told reporter Jill Harmacinski two days after a trio of Marine sergeants showed up at the Rosario family’s home in Lawrence to break the news.
“She was very smart — the smartest person in our family,” Rosalinda Rosario said. “I am really, really proud of my sister.”
Indeed, Sgt. Rosario was determined to show her siblings the value of hard work, according to her former captain. She was more than two-thirds of the way through a degree at Columbia College, having taken online classes throughout her enlistment.
She was also determined to help others. She held a part-time job as a caretaker for elderly patients with dementia, according to Keeley.
In what would be her final assignment, outside Abbey Gate at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Rosario helped screen women and children looking for escape and safe harbor as the U.S. quit its 20-year occupation of Afghanistan. One imagines the chaos and desperation that surrounded the gates of the last American-held patch of land in Afghanistan.
Amid the chaos, agencies who’d helped Afghans through the years searched for anyone they could find to help spirit out those who’d assisted them over the years, who in turn would be subject to the Taliban’s retribution. Their pleas filtered down to the Marines at the airport, the New York Times reported.
“The Marines who died were the ones who were helping our team,” Cori Shepherd, who once helped Afghan girls attend U.S. schools, told the Times. They were “quite literally going into the masses and pulling our women to safety, while coordinating with our guy to find them.”
The Times described surging crowds pushed back by Taliban commanders patrolling a perimeter around the airport. That was before an ISIS-sponsored suicide bomber, wearing a vest pack carrying more than double the explosives worn by similar attackers, slipped through the crowd and toward the soldiers at the gate. Once the bomb exploded, gunfire followed. More than 170 people were killed along with 11 Marines, an Army solider and a Navy corpsman. Another 14 U.S. service members were injured.
The attack was a grim punctuation to the two-decade occupation that had already killed 2,448 U.S. service members and another 3,846 U.S. contractors, according to The Associated Press. It was a reminder of the war’s toll, of the hopes and promises extinguished in lives ended before their time.
Among the 13 killed the week before last in Kabul, all but one was in his or her 20s. Five were not yet old enough to rent a car.
At age 25, Rosario’s life stretched before her. Surely she would’ve enjoyed a successful career; she is remembered as a detail-oriented supply sergeant who earned medals for her assiduous management of a $659,000 budget. In some form, she would’ve been a community steward. Lawrence Mayor Kendrys Vasquez noted in a vigil last week she was always the “leader of the pack” and known for “taking care of the most vulnerable.”
We will never know what she would’ve become. What we do know is that in her final hour, Johanny Rosario made a sacrifice for which her family, friends, fellow Marines and hometown will always be proud, giving her life in service to others and in service to her country.