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He joined the military in 2008 and had been in Afghanistan since late May.

Chief Warrant Officer 2 Bryan Nichols, 31, a pilot from Kansas City, Mo., was eager to get back to flying after a stint handling paperwork as a unit administrator. So when the word went out that people were needed to train for a mobilization, Nichols volunteered.

Lt. Col. Richard Sherman, former commander of Nichols’ unit, said one of his favorite memories is flying a pace car with Nichols to the Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas.

“My happiest and saddest memories are now tied to him,” said Sherman, who was in command and working as an instructional pilot when Nichols joined his unit.

“He had no enemies. He was one everyone wanted to be around. You just liked flying with him because you knew he was going to improve as a young pilot and get better every time you flew with him.”

Specialist Alexander Bennett, 23, couldn’t wait to deploy again after returning from spending a year in Iraq in 2009. So the reservist moved on his own from the Tacoma, Wash., area to Overland Park, Kan., to join Bravo Company.

“He wanted to be part of our unit when it deployed,” said Sherman. “He was a typical young kid and liked to go out and have a good time with the guys.”

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Sgt. Patrick Hamburger

Patrick Hamburger planned to propose to his girlfriend, but had a job to do first: a mission in Afghanistan.

The 30-year-old sergeant from Grand Island, Neb., joined the Nebraska National Guard when he was a senior at Lincoln Southeast High School, but this was his first deployment, his brother Chris Hamburger told The Associated Press.

“He didn’t have to go, and he wanted to go because his group was getting deployed. He wanted to be there for them. That’s him for you,” Chris Hamburger said, adding that Patrick always looked out for his two younger brothers and friends.

He was also the kind of guy who helped his girlfriend raise her 13-year-old daughter from another relationship, as well as the couple’s own 2-year-old daughter, and planned to propose marriage when he got home, Chris Hamburger said.

Patrick Hamburger had been in Afghanistan less than two weeks and had arrived at Forward Operating Base Shank a few days before climbing aboard the helicopter to rush to the aid of an Army Ranger unit under fire from insurgents.

“It doesn’t come as a total surprise that he was trying to help people and that’s how it all ended up happening,” Chris Hamburger said.

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