Marine Lance Corporal Brandon Garabrant was loving his mission in Afghanistan: It was his first deployment, and he felt he had found his calling.
“Fighting for our country, our brothers to the left and right, our friends and families back home. So that you can have the right for freedom and to live the American dream without fear of anything,” wrote Garabrant, 19, of Greenfield, N.H., on his Facebook in April. “Here comes a long journey into the unknown.”
On Friday, Garabrant was killed along with two other US troops when a roadside bomb exploded in southern Afghanistan, according to state and local officials and family members. An American service dog was also killed.
Garabrant was deployed to Afghanistan in April, according to his mother, Jessie Garabrant. The teen, who was born on Veteran’s Day, knew that serving in the military was something he wanted to do, she said.
“I can’t be any more proud of him than I am,” Garabrant’s mother said in a telephone interview Saturday night. “He was the best kind of son any parent would ask for. Very respectful. He was always looking out for me, even when he was away.”
He called and checked in as often as he could, she said, even while he was thousands of miles away in the Middle East.
Garabrant was training to be a gunner, said George Clark, Chief of the Temple (N.H.) Volunteer Fire Department where Garabrant volunteered.
“Knowing all the sacrifices that were involved, he was ready for it,” said Clark, a veteran Marine himself who bonded with Garabrant over the young man’s twin passions: firefighting and military service. “Nineteen years old, and he already knew what he wanted to do with his life. He wanted to serve people.”
Garabrant graduated from ConVal Regional High School last year, an event that made headlines at the time because he wanted to wear his military uniform to the ceremony, but school officials said no. At the time, Garabrant’s mother told the New Hampshire Union Leader that her son, who had graduated from boot camp a day before his high school commencement, should have been allowed to celebrate his accomplishment.
“They put their lives on the line for us,” she told the Union Leader.
At the time, ConVal principal Brian Pickering cited school policy and the Marine Corps supported his decision, according to the Union Leader.
After Garabrant’s death, Pickering extended his sympathy to the family.
“On behalf of the entire ConVal community, I extend my deepest sympathy to Brandon’s family and friends,” he said in a prepared statement. “We are all shocked and deeply saddened by his passing and are incredibly grateful for his service to our country.”
Garabrant came from a long line of soldiers, said his great-aunt June Minkkinen, 79. His great-grandfather and his grandfather were both in the military, she said.
“I think he wanted to grow up and be like Grampy,” she said. “He was one of those kids that is born and is just perfect.”
“He was a really good man,” said Garabrant’s mother. “He had a love for serving people. He was selfless, and he always put other people first.”
She said her son looked into all the military branches, but when he sat down to talk with a Marine recruiter, he knew right away that was the path he wanted to take.
“He was attracted to the loyalty, the honor, and the brotherhood, and the challenges,” she said.
Garabrant’s father declined to comment.
On a memorial Facebook page set up in Garabrant’s honor, friends left memories and messages of grief and support. A man who said he taught Garabrant at ConVal said that Garabrant was one of the most oustanding men he had ever met.
“Built like a tank, looked you straight in the eye, played multiple sports, was honest to a fault, and was also absolutely kind and gentle of heart,” he wrote. “I am absolutely crushed by his loss. Brandon was a great man, a great American, and my brother.”
Garabrant began serving in the Temple Volunteer Fire Department when he was 17, said former chief Michael Connolly, and finished his high school classes early so that he could go to Marine boot camp.
“That’s all he was, Marines from day one,” said Connolly. “He wanted to be both fire and military. . . . He wanted to serve the town and the community and his country.”
When Garabrant found out he was deploying, Connolly said, he told everybody who would listen.
“He couldn’t wait for it to happen any earlier,” said Connolly. “As soon as he found out he got into the Marines, I think he would have gone that day.”
“The entire state of New Hampshire is devastated by the tragic loss of Lance Corporal Brandon Garabrant, who was bravely serving his nation in Afghanistan,” said New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan in a prepared statement.