A 26-year-old Michigan Army National Guard sergeant who regularly assured his family in e-mail messages that he believed in what he was doing in Iraq has been killed, the family says.
Matthew Soper of Jackson died this week, the military told his family Wednesday. The circumstances of his death were not immediately available, and the Pentagon had not announced the death early Thursday.
"He told me, `If I die there, don't think I didn't die doing what I love,"' sister Amy Ciokajlo, 36, told the Jackson Citizen Patriot.
Soper returned from his first Iraq tour in February 2005 and took classes at Kalamazoo Valley Community College until he was called up again in June 2006, his sister said. Soper was to have returned in August.
"He was just counting down the days until he could come home," said aunt Sandy Cannons of Jackson.
Soper quit Jackson Lumen Christi High School but later earned a high school equivalency degree.
"The military really did turn him around," Ciokajlo said.
A soldier who grew up in Dearborn Heights also was killed in Iraq when an improvised bomb detonated near his vehicle on Sunday.
Pfc. Joshua D. Brown, 26, of Tampa, Fla., talked on the phone with his father about a week before his death, the Detroit Free Press said.
"He told me, `Don't worry because God is very faithful.' That was great to hear him tell me that," said Wayne Brown of Dearborn Heights. "I was concerned about how he was doing and his spiritual life, and that was reassuring to me."
Born in Southfield, Brown graduated from Fairlane Christian School in 1998. He played baseball, basketball and soccer, and participated in target shooting and martial arts.
"He was outgoing, very personable," his father said. "He was a friendly guy, but he was tough too."