Preston J. Suter was not particularly patriotic before joining the U.S. Army, but by the time he died in Afghanistan this week, the 22-year-old from Sandy was what one friend called "a proud soldier."
Suter, a 2007 Alta High School graduate, was killed Tuesday along with two other soldiers in Paktia province when enemy forces attacked their unit with an improvised explosive device, the Department of Defense said in a statement Thursday.
A military police officer, or MP, Suter had been based in Germany for about two years. This spring, shortly after a visit home to Utah, he married a German woman who worked in a store on base. He deployed soon after the wedding to eastern Afghanistan, near the border with Pakistan.
His grandparents, Joye and Thomas Neiheiser, of Sandy, said Suter and his fellow soldiers died when a Humvee they were riding in on patrol drove over a roadside bomb. He was the turret gunner.
"We can only imagine the force of the explosion to kill all three," Thomas Neiheiser said. "We can only hope none of them suffered."
Also killed were Joshua Throckmorton, 28, of Battle Creek, Mich., and Jordan C. Schumann, 24, of Port Saint Lucie, Fla.
The soldiers were assigned to the 709th Military Police Battalion, 18th Military Police Brigade, 21st Theater Sustainment Command, based at Hohenfels, Germany.
"He went into the military and really grew up," said Joye Neiheiser.Â "He will be missed greatly."
Suter's father and stepmother, Christopher and Dixie Suter, of Sandy, were not available for comment. They returned Thursday from Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, where they met their son's body. His mother, Patricia Middleton, of West Valley City, also could not be reached for comment.
Tony Cannon, Suter's basketball coach at Alta High, said the young soldier died trying to make others safe.
As an MP, "his job is to make other people safe, whether U.S. soldiers or coalition partners of the Afghan people," said Cannon, a member of the Utah National Guard who has served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Cannon resigned as head coach at Alta shortly before deploying the last time, in 2008.
Cannon said he first learned Suter had joined the Army via Facebook a couple of years ago. The two would chat now and then, including about Suter's desire to be a police officer. "He viewed the military as a way to achieve a career ambition," Cannon said.
Suter's grandmother described him as a big, burly guy, at 6 feet, 4 inches, who made a lot of friends in the military and in Germany.
That's the same way Kesha Phillips, of Draper, described him. They had been friends for eight years, and dated for a while.
"What really drew me to him was he was a total smart aleck," said Phillips. "He was always joking around. He didn't like being serious."
Suter, reared in California before moving to Utah during middle school, played basketball all through his years at Alta High. He was on varsity both junior and senior year, Cannon said.
The power forward was pretty quick and athletic, and handled the ball well. "He never ran out of desire," said Cannon. "He was one of those players you had to kick out of the gym after practice."
Phillips said that after graduation, Suter attended Snow College for a year. He quit, though, unsure whether college suited him, and worked at various jobs before enlisting in December 2008, she said.
He joined the Army after a recruiter convinced him that he could train for either a career as a civilian police officer or an MP, Phillips said.
It was during basic training that Suter became a committed patriot, and it rubbed off on her, Phillips said. "He was a proud soldier."
The last time they talked, two weeks ago, Suter spoke of bringing his wife, Nicole, for a visit to Utah in November. He was also looking forward to being reassigned to a new base, where he and Nicole would live, Phillips said.
"You see all these people coming home from war and the one person you expect to come home isn't," Phillips said Thursday, her voice strained by tears. "I was sure he was coming home."
A candlelight vigil in honor of Preston J. Suter held at 8 p.m. Friday at Alta High School, 11055 S. Hawk Hwy. (1000 East) in Sandy.