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US Troops Killed In Afghanistan And Africa

Army Spc. Shawn A. Muhr

Shawn Muhr didn't join the Army right after high school. But when the 26-year-old eventually enlisted, he wound up joining a group of friends and family who'd made the military their career.

Muhr, from the small western Iowa community of Coon Rapids, graduated from Coon Rapids-Bayard High School in 2003. He worked at a meatpacking plant before enlisting in 2005, according to The Des Moines Register.

In the Army, the natural athlete seemed to flourish.

"He had found his niche in the military," his high school guidance counselor, Bill Orlano, told the newspaper. "He really blossomed there."

Muhr and another soldier were killed Jan. 29 in Afghanistan's Helmand province when a homemade bomb exploded.

Friends say they'll remember Muhr for his sunny personality.

"He always had a smile on his face. It didn't matter what was going on," Jacob Schroeder, a high school friend who joined the U.S. Navy, told the paper. "He looked to the best side of things."

Muhr, who was assigned to Fort Bragg, had already been deployed to Iraq.

He's survived by his wife and stepson; mother and father - an Army veteran who's vice commander of the Coon Rapids American Legion Post; three sisters; and his brother Aaron, who served in the Iowa National Guard.

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Army Pfc. Robert Near

Those who knew Robert Near, from his grandmother to his Army commanders, remember him as happy.

"You couldn't make him mad," Vera Near, 72, said of her grandson. "Never in his life did he sass me."

Robert Near, 21, of Nampa, Idaho, died Jan. 7 in Kandahar, Afghanistan. He was assigned to Fort Huachuca, Ariz.

The Yakima (Wash.) Herald reports that he was born in Woodland, Calif., and that he and his father moved to Granger, Wash.

They lived with his grandmother, who would play video games with him. He would pull the weeds for her in her yard.

His father said he grew up with a healthy curiosity, penchant for chess and positive attitude.

"He had fun all the way to the very end," Dale Near said.

Robert Near graduated from Granger High School in 2007.

The following year, according to the Yakima newspaper, he moved to Nampa and studied computer programming and repair at the Centennial Job Corps. He joined the Army in March 2009 and deployed to Afghanistan last year.

His survivors include his father; a brother, Kyle Scott of California; and three sisters, Jennifer Amen, Teddy Scott and Arial Scott, all of California.

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Army Sgt. Eric M. Nettleton

The Sept. 11 attacks changed Eric Nettleton's life, convincing the then-high school student to enlist in the Army after he graduated from West High School in Wichita.

A native of Wichita, Kan., Nettleton enlisted in the Army in 2003 and went on to serve three tours of duty in the Middle East - two in Afghanistan and a third in Iraq.

"He just wanted to give back and do something, he was always very much a patriot," his brother Clayton Nettleton told KWCH-TV.

Known for his love of adventure, Eric Nettleton, 26, loved to play football, fish and seek out new thrills.

"It just seemed like he was born for the Army," Clayton Nettleton said during a family news conference.

The 26-year-old died Jan. 5 by a roadside bomb in Dehjawz-e Hasanzay, Afghanistan.

In addition to his brother, Nettleton is survived by his wife, parents and two sisters. He was assigned to Vilseck, Germany.

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Staff Sgt. Aracely Gonzalez O'Malley

Aracely Gonzalez O'Malley's husband says she joined the Army because she wanted to do something that made her children proud.

In the same year that she was deployed to Afghanistan, she also gave birth to a son. While she could have postponed her deployment, she didn't. She had wanted to deploy with her husband, Sgt. Ryan O'Malley, 24.

"She did everything for the kids," her husband said.

Gonzalez O'Malley's sister Lizbeth Gonzalez, of Yuma, Ariz., says she once told her family that she wanted her sons to serve one day, too.

The 31-year-old mother from Brawley, Calif, died Oct. 22 at Homburg, Germany. Her family told the Los Angeles Times that she suffered a brain aneurysm nine days earlier while serving in Mazar-e Sharif, Afghanistan.

She had been assigned to Schofield Barracks, Hawaii.

She enlisted in the Army in 2002 and met her husband while based at Fort Shafter in Hawaii four years later.

The Times reported that friends and relatives remembered her as a proud soldier who was outgoing and a die-hard San Diego Chargers fan.

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Army Sgt. 1st Class Robert W. Pharris

At 48, Robert Pharris was old enough to be the father of many of the members in his National Guard unit.

As a farmboy, Pharris first enlisted in 1981, working as an infantryman, drill sergeant and recruiter.

After 16 years, Pharris decided to take a break, working on his 36-acre farm in Seymour, Mo. He also spent time on the road as a long-haul trucker while raising his four children.

But in 2008, he decided to re-enlist and was deployed to Afghanistan, where he worked in a special unit educating Afghan farmers about how to tend their land more efficiently.

He seemed to love the work.

"He drank tea with the Afghans daily and constantly strived to learn more about their language and culture," Col. Michael Fortune, the commander of Pharris' agribusiness development team, said in a statement.

Pharris and another soldier were killed Jan. 5 by a roadside bomb in Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan.

When he wasn't on the farm, Pharris was a soccer fan who worked as a local referee. An avid reader of military history, he was also an active member of his church and said his time on the road as a truck driver gave him time to get closer to God.

Pharris is survived by his wife and four children, including a son who was also serving in Afghanistan as a Marine. He was based in Jefferson City, Mo.

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Army Spc. Luther W. Rabon Jr.

Luther "Will" Rabon was remembered as a self-proclaimed mama's boy who adored his children and enjoyed dirt track racing and riding motorcycles.

A photo posted on Facebook showed Rabon posing with his car, which was painted fire-engine red with a Confederate flag painted on the hood - a vehicle that called to mind The General Lee, the super-fast Dodge Charger driven by the characters of television's "The Dukes of Hazzard."

On the door was painted a white No. 52.

"Do you remember the work we put in this car in 1 night so Will could get out there and hit the wall in it the next night? Good times," a friend, Lee McCullough, wrote on Facebook.

Rabon was killed by a roadside bomb Oct. 1 in Paktika province, Afghanistan. He was based in Graniteville, S.C., with the state's National Guard.

An obituary posted online said Rabon also enjoyed hunting, boating, shooting pool and playing golf.

Friends and relatives recalled in online postings that Rabon was dedicated to his wife, Catherine; children, Summer, Grace and Trinity; and parents, Luther and Martha.

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Army Spc. Christian J. Romig

One day when Christian Romig ordered a pizza, he decided it would be too easy to simply hand the delivery man a wad of cash and take his pie.

Romig was a wrestler on his high school team at the time and opened the door wearing a too-tight wrestling singlet, his sister Gabrielle Romig told The Times-Picayune newspaper.

"He made sure to do stretches and lunges in front of the poor guy before taking the pizza and handing the guy the money that he had stored in the singlet, God only knows where," his sister said.

But that was her brother, always trying to make people laugh.

Christian Romig, 24, of Kenner, La., and another soldier were killed by a roadside bomb Jan. 5 in Nangarhar province, Afghanistan. He was assigned to Fort Campbell. Romig graduated from Grace King High School in 2005. Other survivors include his parents and three brothers.

Gabrielle Romig said her brother was a cavalry scout who served as a gunner on ground vehicles. He was just weeks away from coming home to visit when he was killed.

He was all heart, all warrior; short body but just a man of gold," the soldier's uncle Tommy Walker told WGNO-TV.

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Army Pfc. Zachary S. Salmon

Zack Salmon loved joking around with his family and friends. After the young Army soldier from Pigeon Forge, Tenn., deployed to Afghanistan in September, he stayed connected to them through video chats on Skype.

"The best word to describe him was vibrant," his aunt Christine Craig told the Cincinnati Enquirer. "The most mundane thing, he made fun."

But Salmon also had serious side. One of the main reasons he enlisted was to better take care of his 3-year-old son, Noah.

"He wanted to better himself and give his son something to be proud of," Craig said.

Salmon, 21, who joined the Army just six months before his deployment, died Jan. 12 in Kunar province after an attack on his unit. He was assigned to Fort Campbell.

Salmon was an Ohio native who moved to Tennessee as a teenager. He graduated from Pigeon Forge High School in 2008.

He also leaves behind his parents, Renee Lyons Cross and Steven Salmon, and girlfriend, Keely McCarter.

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Army Pfc. Amy R. Sinkler

Amy Sinkler's reason for joining the military was simple: She wanted to get out of the little town where she grew up and spent her life and see the world.

"Basically, we were in our hometown forever," her best friend, Brittany Rahman, told The Fayetteville Observer. "We grew up there, didn't travel much, so we wanted to get away and see different stuff."

Sinkler graduated from West Columbus High School in Chadbourn, N.C., in 2006. Rahman graduated a year earlier. Both wound up joining the military.

Sinkler, 23, was killed in a rocket-propelled grenade attack Jan. 20 in Baghlan province, Afghanistan. She was assigned to Fort Richardson, Alaska. She was a vehicle driver with a group at the post known as the "Rough Riders."

Rahman said her friend had settled in well at the post, buying herself a car and marrying her high school boyfriend, Doug Sinkler.

The soldier was a strong-minded person and wasn't one to hold back what she was feeling, Rahman said.

"That's not Amy," she said. "She's going to tell you exactly how she's feeling."

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Marine Cpl. Jacob A. Tate

Jacob Tate's parents didn't know which career he would choose because his interests were so varied and didn't seem to point to a particular path.

He became interested in the Marines and joined shortly after his 2007 graduation from Gahanna Christian Academy near Columbus, Ohio. It seemed like the perfect fit.

"I think that he saw the value of the Marines," Paul Hartje, an English teacher at Gahanna Christian, told the Columbus Dispatch. "He saw the discipline. It gave him a sense of purpose to defend the country. He saw the strength of brotherhood."

Tate returned from his first deployment, to Iraq, in April 2009 after about seven months of combat. He married his longtime sweetheart, Amy, two months later. Duty called again two summers after that, and he was off to Afghanistan last July.

Tate, 21, was killed in combat Jan. 2 in Helmand province. He was assigned to Camp Lejeune.

Just months before his death, Amy gave birth to their son, Jax. Tate never got to see him.

He also leaves behind his parents, James and Janice Tate.

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Army Sgt. 1st Class Anthony Venetz Jr.

Whether he was home or thousands of miles away serving in Afghanistan, Anthony Venetz tried to read a book to his children at night whenever he could.

His father, Anthony Venetz Sr., said the soldier would go online to read to Jace, 3, and Alexa, 7.

"His life revolved around his children and his wife," his father told The Fayetteville Observer. "Pretty much all of the things that his children were involved with, he was involved with when he was home. The rest of the time was being a soldier."

Venetz Jr., 30, died in an incident not related to combat Jan. 28 in Parwan province, Afghanistan. The military is investigating his death. He was assigned to Fort Bragg.

His father said the soldier had been wounded on his third deployment to Afghanistan - in one incident, he was shot in the leg; in another, he got a concussion when Humvee he was riding in hit a roadside bomb.

Venetz Jr. grew up in the hamlet of Wading River on New York's Long Island. He graduated from Shoreham-Wading River High School, where he excelled at soccer, his father said. He briefly attended college but decided the military offered him more opportunities.

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Marine Cpl. Joseph C. Whitehead

Joseph "Joe" Whitehead loved four things more than anything, one of his brothers said at his memorial service: "Food. Family. Children. And food."

Friends and relatives said Whitehead enjoyed making people smile and even was joyful when he was working hard.

"Always tough as nails," Jeff Kelly, Whitehead's former high school football coach, said Wednesday. "You could work him hard in the weight room and on the field, and that stuff didn't seem to bother him.

"He was always jovial."

Whitehead, 22, of Axis, Ala., was killed by a roadside bomb during a sweep Jan. 17 in Helmand province, Afghanistan. He was assigned to Camp Lejeune. Whitehead graduated from Satsuma High School in 2007.

The Marine was a die-hard University of Alabama fan who also wound up in some funny situations. At his memorial service, mourners recalled a time he took his grandfather's boat out for a spin - and ended up having to swim back to shore without it when something went wrong.

Whitehead's mother, Melanie Miller, said her son wanted to have an impact on people's lives.

"I have to be stronger now than I was before, for my son, and I know he loved his brothers and sister," she said, referring to his sister Jessica Whitehead and brothers Destin Goodhue and Keith Miller.

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Air Force Tech. Sgt. Leslie Williams

Leslie Williams could teach the youth on the baseball and football teams he coached how to throw a ball, but he was more than an authority figure to his players in the North Carolina town near the Air Force base where he was assigned.

Parents and others who knew him say the young players on his teams, which included the Rosewood Little Eagles football team, also found in him a dedicated mentor and friend.

"Those boys, they loved him," Angie Lancaster, the mother of one of Williams' players, told the Goldsboro News-Argus. "They respected him. He was so special to them."

The 36-year-old from Juneau, Alaska, died Jan. 25 at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan. He was assigned to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.

The military said his death was not combat related.

An obituary published in the Juneau Empire said he had served 14 years in the Air Force.

"Les will be remembered as a man of character, the kind of role model who set an example for everyone he touched," his family said.

Williams' survivors include his wife, Tonya DeMent Williams, and children Christian, Phoenix and Allyson Williams.