Staff Sgt. Rayvon Battle told relatives that he left Rocky Mount to serve in the Army in the Middle East to become a man.
By all accounts, he had succeeded, before he was killed last week trying to stop a devastating explosion in Kandahar province, Afghanistan.
Battle, 25, had become a well-liked, widely respected squad leader, according to his commanding officer, Capt. Jefferson D. Mason, of the 38th Engineer Company, 4th Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division.
“Staff Sgt. Battle lost his life fighting alongside his fellow squad leaders/brothers while attempting to stem an impending explosion of epic proportions,” Mason wrote in a tribute on an Army-sanctioned Facebook site. “Staff Sgt. Battle made a conscious choice to live by a code of ethics and a code of conduct, and he exemplified the perspective that I and many others admired and respected.”
Battle leaves behind a widow and young daughter, according to Dora Harris, the grandmother who raised him.
Known to family members as “Junior,” Battle was lauded by relatives and school officials as a young man determined to do what was needed, whether in the military or home in Nash County.
About six months before his graduation from Northern Nash High School in 2007, Harris said, Battle made up his mind to enter the military to continue the lessons she had taught him about becoming a man.
“From the time he was young, everything he did, he said, ‘Grandma, I got this,’” she said. “I already miss him a great deal. I miss him so much; it just breaks my heart that Junior will never come back to 634 Atlantic Ave.”
Battle’s life and death show the ongoing effects of the war in Afghanistan, scheduled to wind down by 2014, after a dozen years of fighting. Battle was the first soldier from his brigade to die during its deployment to Afghanistan, but 33 soldiers from his base, Lewis-McChord in Washington state, have died there this year. He had twice served in Iraq as a part of his duty of clearing mines from the paths of oncoming convoys.
“He was skeptical of going to Afghanistan; he was uneasy about it,” Harris said.
According to an account in the Tacoma News-Tribune, Battle was continuing his training last year in Yakima, Wash., practicing demolition techniques that were part of his area of expertise, along with making roads safe for approaching soldiers.
“It’s a balance of our job,” he was quoted in the newspaper. “With route clearance, we ... get movement for things and people to go places. Another part of our job is demolitions, which we don’t get to do a lot.”
According to the Army, Battle had earned awards and decorations including the Army Commendation Medal and Army Achievement Medal with 2nd Oak Leaf Cluster. Both in accounts from his people in Rocky Mount and from those who served alongside him thousands of miles away, Battle emerged as a leader regardless of acclaim.
He is remembered as someone who would do the right thing, no matter how difficult, as a result of upbringing and training.
“Staff Sgt. Battle was one of those rare Non-Commissioned Officers who just shined, a tremendous leader with an intrinsic ability to perform magnanimously under pressure,” said Mason, his commanding officer.
His grandmother put it more simply.
“Junior was a hero at whatever he did,” Harris said.
A funeral service will take place next Saturday in Rocky Mount, but the time and place have not been determined, Harris said. Arrangements are being handled by H.D. Hope Funeral Home. In addition, a service has been scheduled for Dec. 5 at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.