A downstate Bloomington man who dreamed of becoming an Army Ranger while in high school was one of two American soldiers killed during a raid on an Islamic State compound in eastern Afghanistan that is the subject of a friendly fire investigation.
The Department of Defense on Friday identified the Rangers killed in the Wednesday raid as Sgt. Joshua P. Rodgers, 22, of Bloomington, and Sgt. Cameron H. Thomas, 23, of Kettering, Ohio.
Navy Capt. Jeff Davis said both may have died during the opening minutes of the fierce, three-hour firefight. According to Davis, the target of Wednesday's raid was the head of the Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan, Abdul Haseeb Logari. Davis said officials suspect that Logari, the emir of what's called the Islamic State Khorasan group, was among several key leaders killed, but they haven't confirmed that.
About 35 other enemy fighters were killed and another Army Ranger received a minor head wound during the battle but was able to stay with the assault force.
The operation included two platoons of Rangers and a similar number of Afghan commandos. They came under fire from "multiple directions and well-prepared fighting positions" within minutes of their helicopters landing, the statement said.
Rodgers, a 2013 graduate of Normal Community High School, was a Ranger team leader at the time of the raid and was on his third deployment to Afghanistan.
Rodgers' former high school track coach said Rodgers always made known his intentions to become an Army Ranger.
"He never spoke about anything else. He wanted to be an Army Ranger," said Bryan Thomas, who is also an assistant football coach at Normal Community. "It was something that he really talked about the spring of his senior year. Even some of the football coaches helped him get some of the (physical) training done because he was really excited about the test."
Though a lanky, undersized football player, Thomas said Rodgers fearlessly tackled bigger opposing players "with a smile on his face," inspiring teammates who also lacked size.
"The difference was with Josh, he has an infectious smile … and the next thing, you see his work ethic. And you see him lead by example. And that was contagious with our football and track programs," Thomas said.
A request to Rodgers' mother for comment was declined.