Army soldier, former wrestler at Fort Mill High, dies in Iraq in push against ISIS

Fort Mill soldier remembered by former high school coach

A former Fort Mill, South Carolina, High School wrestler is remembered after his death while serving in the military.
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A former Fort Mill, South Carolina, High School wrestler is remembered after his death while serving in the military.

An Army soldier who graduated from Fort Mill High School has died in Iraq.

Spc. Javion “Jay” Shavonte Sullivan, 24, died Monday from what the Department of Defense said was a “non-combat related incident,” according to a statement.

Sullivan, assigned to a signal company based out of Fort Hood in Texas, was killed in Anbar Province in Iraq, officials said.

The incident is under investigation but no other details have been released.

Javion leaves a wife, Rayven, and daughter, Mahogany, 3, his family said.

“He was not only our hero, he was the community’s hero and the country’s hero,” said Cynthia Sullivan, Javion’s mother. “He knew the sacrifice that could come with his decision. I take solace in that he had a passion for service, for the military, for his country.”

Cynthia Sullivan, who still lives in Indian Land in Lancaster County, said that she “begged” her son not to enlist, but he told her that was what he wanted to do and must do to serve his family, community, and country.

“He was doing what he could to protect us all in this country – I am so proud of him,” Cynthia Sullivan said.

Cynthia Sullivan said that she and her family appreciate the outpouring of support from around York and Lancaster counties, South Carolina, and the nation.

“My son was so proud to serve the people of this country,” she said.

Javion’s father, Willis Sullivan, of Simpsonville, said his son wanted to be in the military from a young age. Javion, called Jay by family and friends, enlisted after going to college for a couple of years at Coastal Carolina University and York Technical College because he wanted to serve his country and its people, his parents said.

“He loved to serve his country,” Willis Sullivan said.

Stars and Stripes reported that Sullivan was part of the military coalition working against ISIS in Iraq and is the first American casualty of the effort against ISIS in 2018.

Sullivan graduated from Fort Mill High School in 2011, said Dee Christopher, principal at the school. Sullivan was at the school for two years and was a part of Coach Chris Brock’s wrestling team as a senior.

Cynthia Sullivan, Javion’s mother, said her son took to wrestling and became a force and leader on the team in just one season.

“One time I turned away for just a second and when I turned back the referee was raising Javion’s arm in victory,” Cynthia Sullivan recalled. “But he was so humble. He was all about the team.”

Brock, the wrestling coach, said that Sullivan was a leader in high school and continued that leadership in the military. Sullivan was a a good athlete, “but an even better person,” Brock said.

“It is young men, leaders, like Jay who give the rest of us the opportunities in freedom to do the things we love,” Brock said.

Brock recalled looking for athletes after graduation in 2010 depleted the team - Sullivan was an obvious choice.

“We convinced him to come out and try it, and over the course of the season we learned to appreciate Jay more for the person he was as opposed to what he was bringing to the mat, which was a lot,” Brock said. “He was an incredible athlete.”

Sullivan treated teammates and coaches with dignity and brought a service mentality to the team, Brock said..

“We taught him a few things,” Brock said. “He did them well, and was always willing to do what we asked of him. He was a good guy, a great leader on the team.”

Brock was emotional about the loss of Sullivan but was able to laugh at the memory of opponents first encountering Sullivan at a weigh-in or on the mat. Opponents were “somewhat struck with fear” looks, which Brock wasn't about to alleviate by telling them Sullivan was a first-year wrestler.

“I think half of his matches were won just out of sheer intimidation,” Brock said.

Sullivan’s death in a war zone hurts all in Fort Mill, Brock said, but he and others at the high school and community will always remember Sullivan’s willingness to serve and give his life.

“It’s a tragedy, but having offered so much while here and now serving his country as he has, it’s tough,” Brock said. “It’s certainly a hard loss.”

The Fort Mill High wrestling team hopes to honor Javion at its next home match Jan. 18, Brock said.

Sullivan is the fifth York County casualty of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Pat Leach, Paul Neff, Kenneth James Butler and T.J. Dudley, all of York County, died in the wars fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. Chester County natives Logan Tinsley and Zandra Worthy-Walker also died in those wars.

Funeral services for Sullivan have not yet been finalized.