Residents in the hometown of Army Ranger Sgt. Tanner Higgins, who was killed in combat in Afghanistan Saturday, are preparing for the war hero’s return with displays of patriotic pride.
Funeral arrangements for Higgins are pending with Beaty Funeral Home in Winnsboro. No date has been set for services, which the family has said will be held at Lake Fork Baptist Church.
A spokesman for the funeral home said it may take some time before Higgins’ remains can be transported to Wood County, but it will likely be over the weekend or early next week.
Family members recalled the life of a heroic young man who died serving a cause he believed in.
Since he was a child, Tanner Higgins wanted to be a soldier, according to his father, Danny Higgins.
“We’d be camping and he’d put his camos on and paint his face up,” his father said. “We’re sitting around the camp fire, and he’d be real low, crawling through the woods, sneaking up on us,” said his father.
After graduating from Sulphur Springs High School in 2007, Higgins immediately joined the Army.
“I grew up knowing I would go into the military,” he told the News-Telegram in 2009. “ I was always interested in it from the time I was little. Fightin’ is kind of in my nature, and I liked the idea of doing something cool and getting paid for it. What could be better than serving your country?”
Two years later, he became one of the youngest members accepted into the elite Army Rangers. The average age of an Army Ranger is 24 years and older, but Sgt. Higgins earned his tan beret and scroll at age 19.
“Ranger School truly taught me what it is to be a man,” he said then. “It taught me that I wasn’t nearly as tough as I acted, but that I was a lot tougher than I thought. It’s a good feeling to be a part of the best unit in the world.”
His grandfather, Gerald Higgins, said Tanner always wanted to be "the best." His military education included the Basic Airborne Course, Ranger Assessment and Selection Program, U.S. Army Ranger Course and Emergency Medical Technician Basic Course and U.S. Army Sniper School. He was also a Warrior Leader Course Distinguished Leadership Awardee.
He married his wife, Shelby Lynn, in October 2011, and shortly afterward was again deployed to Afghanistan.
"He was an extraordinary kid," Higgins' cousin Ryan Horne told a Georgia TV station. “I was his older cousin, so I got to see him grow up. Being in the military was just something we knew was a perfect fit for him.”
Higgins is from Texas, but his mother, former News-Telegram Feature Writer Patti Sells, moved to Tybee Island to be closer to her son. He was deployed in March to Afghanistan.
The Rev. David Laughner, pastor of the church Sells attends, recalled their shared concerns.
"I have a son who is in the Marines and he is on his fifth deployment. It's very common when I would go to the Breakfast Club where Patti works [that] I would say, ‘Patti, I'm praying for your son,’ and she would say, ‘I'm praying for your son as well,’" the pastor of Chapel by the Sea on Tybee said.
Sgt. Higgins was a team leader and a sniper. He loved serving his country and willingly went to war on each of his four tours in combat zones, his grandfather said.
“He was doing what he loved to do, yes,” said Gerald Higgins Sr., his grandfather. “His colonel said when he led, he led from out front. He didn’t say, ‘Send them out,’ he was leading them all the way.”
His father believes that serving his country is the only way his son would have wanted to go.
“I knew there was a chance of this, but you never can quite prepare for it,” Danny Higgins said. “Every few minutes I just start crying, thinking I’m never gonna see him again.”
His parents were at Dover AFB Tuesday to receive their son's body.
Higgins is survived by his wife, Shelby Lynn Higgins of Savannah, Ga; his father, Danny R. Higgins of Hurst; his mother Patti D. Sells of Tybee Island, Ga.; and three brothers, Hunter Higgins of Hurst, Noah Sells of Tybee Island, Ga., and Army Pvt. Dillon Heneger of Columbus, Ga.
A U.S. Army team transfers the remains of Army Sgt. Tanner S. Higgins of Yantis at Dover Air Force Base, Del., on Tuesday.
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