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Pentagon identifies 2 paratroopers killed in Afghan attack

The Pentagon identified the two service members killed in a deadly attack Wednesday near Kandahar, Afghanistan as Sgt. Jonathon Michael Hunter, 23, of Columbus, Indiana, and Spc. Christopher Michael Harris, 25, of Jackson Springs, North Carolina.

Harris and Hunter were infantrymen assigned to 2nd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, the Department of Defense said. It was both paratroopers' first deployments.

In a statement, Col. Toby Magsig, commander of 1st Brigade Combat Team, said the entire brigade is "deeply saddened by the loss of two beloved team members."

Hunter's father, Mark Hunter, told The Associated Press his son was only 32 days into his deployment. He said his son joined the Army in 2014.

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Mark Hunter said his son was excited about his first deployment, but that he, as an Army veteran, was apprehensive.

"He had been there 32 days. I'm former military, me and his uncle both, so we know the dangers," Hunter told The Associated Press by phone from his home in Columbus.

He said his son, who got married last October and has an older brother and two stepsisters, was cheerful, loving and religious.

"If you were down, he would cheer you up and he was God-loving. He was raised in the church," he said.

The family later issued a statement saying in part, "Jonathon loved his unit and serving his country and was excited about the opportunity to go to Afghanistan to do his part in fighting injustice."

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Hunter said he will travel Friday to Dover Air Force Base to retrieve his son's remains and that funeral plans were being determined by him, Jonathon's mother and Jonathon's wife, Whitney.

After graduating from Columbus East High School in 2011, he said his son spent a short time in Nashville, Tennessee, pursuing his dream of becoming a music producer before he enrolled Indiana State University in Terre Haute, where he studied criminology and business.

But Hunter said his son eventually left ISU and joined the Army in April 2014 because of he didn't want to burden him with paying for his college.

"After he got into school -- and of course we were struggling with bills, to pay for it -- he decided to join. He said, 'Dad, I know that going into the military I can get a free education,'" Mark Hunter said.

He said his family has a history of military service that dates back to the Civil War.

"I'm just proud of him. He was a great soldier. He made (sergeant) in a little over three years, which is pretty rare, they tell me," Hunter said.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, and a spokesman for the insurgents said the bombing allegedly killed 15 soldiers - a claim that appeared exaggerated as many similar Taliban claims have been in the past.

Kandahar province was the Taliban spiritual heartland and the headquarters of their leadership during the five-year rule of the Taliban, which ended with the U.S. invasion in 2001.