A 1992 Dobyns-Bennett graduate has been killed in Afghanistan serving his country, while his father is left to take solace in the fact his son was doing what he loved.
Sgt. 1st Class Jason O.B. Hickman, 35, died Thursday as a result of injuries suffered during an attack at Combat Outpost Bowri Tana. Assigned to A Company, Brigade Special Troops Battalion, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, the paratrooper had been serving in Afghanistan since early February — with his unit scheduled to return next month to Fort Richardson, Alaska.
“Jason was a man of faith. He was a Christian,” said his father, J.D. Hickman, from his home between Kingsport and Gray. “Being former military, I can say if you’re going to die, there’s no better way of dying than dying for your country, for your people.”
According to Hickman, a Vietnam veteran, Jason enlisted in the Army nine years ago and served a previous tour of duty in Iraq.
Hickman last spoke to his son about two weeks before Christmas. Hickman was sharing plans of traveling in April to Alaska, where he would reunite with his son, daughter-in-law Tiffany and three grandchildren; all boys, ages 6, 4 and 2.
They also acknowledged the perils at hand.
“Let me put it this way: It was two military guys talking,” said Hickman of his final conversation with Jason. “A lot of things were discussed that I really wouldn’t want in the newspaper. Going into a war zone, we both understood what the possibilities were.”
Jason was born in Alaska while his father was still enlisted — and at the very base he had recently called home. From age 3 to 26 he lived in Kingsport before enlisting in the Army himself and relocating to Fort Bragg, N.C.
Besides tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, Jason had worked as a recruiter in Wisconsin and was stationed at Fort Lewis, Wash., where he met his wife.
While arrangements are not complete, Hickman said his son will be buried at the Tahoma National Cemetery near Fort Lewis. He was notified of his son’s death about 8 p.m. Thursday.
“When I saw the uniform step in the door, I knew,” said Hickman, who during his military career had occasionally notified next of kin. “I’ve done that myself, so I knew. But that don’t make it any easier.”
While Hickman regrets Jason’s death and acknowledges he’ll miss his son dearly, he adds: “Not many of us get to die doing what we really want to do. He felt a duty. He’s a damn good man, and he’s a damn good soldier.”
He also expressed gratitude for getting to witness his son’s body laid to rest.
“(In Vietnam) we never left the wounded or dead. We always took them with us. Everyone always said, ‘Don’t leave me, take me. Make sure I get home.’ That’s important.”
When asked if there’s anything else he’d like to share regarding his son, Hickman is quiet for a moment. Then his voice cracks, “John 15:13.”
Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.