Chief Petty Officer Heath M. Robinson was 34 years old when he died August 6 in the CH-47 Chinook helicopter shot down in the Tangi Valley of Afghanistan. He was a Navy SEAL. Sixteen other SEALS, five Navy Special Operations troops supporting them, five Army air crew members, three Air Force airmen, seven Afghan soldiers, a civilian interpreter, and a military working dog were also killed on the Chinook. They were flying to assist a unit of the 75th Ranger Regiment that was pinned down by enemy fire.
Heath’s residence was listed as Detroit, and he was assigned to an East Coast-based SEAL unit. Very few of us realized he and his family also had a residence here on the island, and it was only after news of his death became public that most islanders discovered his Mackinac connection. Although they were limited in the time they could spend here, the plan was for Heath to retire in two more years, go back to school for his MBA, then spend as much time as possible in the condo they had purchased.
Heath was the only Michigan resident who died that day. He graduated from Petoskey High School in 1995 and enlisted the next year, completing Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL School (BUDS) in Coronado,California in January of 2000.
His decorations include four Bronze Star Medals, three with ‘V’ for valor; Joint Service Commendation Medal; three Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medals, two with ‘V’ for valor; Joint Service Achievement Medal; three Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals; Combat Action Ribbon; two Presidential Unit Citations; Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation; five Navy Good Conduct Medals; Navy Fleet Marine Force Ribbon; National Defense Service Medal; Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal; two Afghanistan Campaign Medals; Iraq Campaign Medal; Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal; Global War on Terrorism Service Medal; six Sea Service Deployment Ribbons; NATO Medal; Navy Expert Rifleman Medal and Navy Expert Pistol Shot Medal.
In his sermon this morning at Little Stone Church, Dr. Vincent Carroll told of meeting Heath a couple of years ago. Vince was walking on Main Street through the Mission District and came upon a young couple with a small child, going toward the ferry docks. The mother was carrying several small bags, and the young man was handling quite a few large luggage pieces. Vince offered to carry a couple of the bags for the mom. While walking toward town, he chatted with them and discovered that Heath was a SEAL, and that they had bought an island condo. They were very excited about one day becoming a real part of this community.
That’s all the background I can offer, but I can imagine, as a child, Heath may have come to the island with his parents – perhaps many times. Obviously, somewhere in his past, the island had called to him as a place to one day bring his family for a slice of small town America – a place far removed from the career he had chosen and did so well – far from the violence of war, where children could safely ride down the streets at night, and where a couple could sit on a bench near the water, watch the sun set and “study war no more”.
We thank God for him and others like him who fight every day and night for our freedom – who bravely go into harm’s way so we can live in peace.
The Mackinac Island flags are at half-staff and will remain there until September 6. We all wish we had known him – this hero among us. It would have been an honor.