Kennewick High grad killed in attack in Afghanistan

Tri-City Herald staff writerJune 19, 2013 

A 21-year-old soldier who grew up in Kennewick and enjoyed sports and working with young people died Tuesday in Afghanistan.

Spc. 4 Robby Wayne Ellis, a 2010 graduate of Kennewick High School, served in the Army’s 32nd Transportation Co., based at Fort Carson, Colo.

Ellis, a truck driver in the Army, was recently promoted and had re-enlisted for another five years. He was seven months into his first tour of duty in Afghanistan and was due to return to the U.S. in August.

Army officials said Ellis and three other soldiers were killed when insurgents attacked the sprawling Bagram Air Base, one of the largest military bases in Afghanistan. Few details were available Wednesday, but it appears they were hit with some kind of indirect fire, likely rockets or mortar rounds.

His mother, Joelle Ellis of Kennewick, said Ellis and his comrades were standing at a bus stop on the base when they were attacked.

“Nothing can prepare you for the loss of a child,” she said. “We had texted just that morning. We texted nearly every day.” Ellis had been reminding his mom not to send him any letters or packages after mid-July, because of his pending return stateside.

He enlisted in the Army two years ago when he was 19 and a student at Columbia Basin College, just a quarter away from graduation.

“He’s my hero,” said his dad, John Ellis, wiping tears from his eyes. “He gave up his education to serve his country. It was something he felt a need to do. He wanted to go out and see the world.”

Ellis had planned to make the Army his career.

“It was always the Army for him,” Joelle Ellis said. “He felt there were more chances to advance and more opportunities in the Army.”

The Ellises are longtime members of Grace Baptist Church in Kennewick. The regular Wednesday evening service was dedicated to Ellis’ memory.

Pastor Bill Dupignac said Robby Ellis was humble, always willing to help and sincerely loved Jesus Christ.

He paraphrased a Bible passage from Ezekiel to illustrate Ellis’ love of country and of the Lord.

“God asks, who’s willing to stand in the gap and defend Israel? Robby Ellis personified the one who would step up and stand in the gap,” Dupignac said.

Kennewick High Assistant Principal Ron King remembers Ellis well. He was King’s teaching assistant during his senior year. “It was a job he took very seriously,” King said.

King characterized Ellis as sincere and ambitious. He participated in Running Start, a program that allows high school students to earn college credits and pursue associate degrees along with their high school diplomas.

“We are proud of our kids who join the military, but it’s always in the back of your mind — the fear that something bad will happen to one of our own,” King said. “He always had, and always will, make Kennewick High proud. He was a good Lion.”

Ellis worked with kids at Hawthorne and Canyon View elementary schools for the YMCA of the Greater Tri-Cities, said Steve Howland, executive director. He also participated in the summer camp program and was known as a good role model for youth.

“Every staff person who worked with him said the kids loved him,” Howland said.

When not studying or working, Ellis enjoyed fishing and sports, especially football and baseball.

“He lived and breathed baseball,” his mom said.

No services have been arranged yet. He is survived by his brother, Jimmy, 17, a senior at Kennewick High, and numerous relatives in the Tri-City area.

-- Reporter Ty Beaver contributed to this report.

-- Loretto J. Hulse: 582-1513;

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