NATICK — Army Major General Harold “Harry” J. Greene was no ordinary military commander.
During his two years commanding the Natick Soldier Systems Center, Greene made his mark dressing as Santa Claus for a holiday run, volunteering for the dunk tank at a picnic on base, and engaging in a push-up contest with an elderly veteran after a middle school ceremony. And he was a huge Boston Red Sox fan.
“He’s just a fun guy,” said John Harlow, chief of public affairs for the Natick Army installation where Greene served as senior commander from 2009 to 2011. “There’s a lot of people sad here today because a lot of us lost a friend.”
Greene, 55, was killed Tuesday by an Afghan soldier at Marshal Fahim National Defense University, west of Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul. The soldier hid in a bathroom with a NATO assault rifle before opening fire, killing Greene and wounding 15 others, an Afghan military official said Wednesday.
The two-star general is the highest-ranked US officer to be slain in combat since 1970 in the Vietnam War. He was on his first deployment to a war zone.
“General Greene loved being a soldier,” said Army Reserve Lieutenant Colonel Brian Wood, who served as Greene’s executive officer while he was in Natick.
“It’s a great loss . . . to the nation, to the Army, especially to his family,” Wood said. “We lost a huge advocate for the soldier.”
Personnel at the Natick military facility research and develop supplies that soldiers need, including food, clothing, and shelter. The mission was well suited for Greene, who held a doctorate in materials science from the University of Southern California, and spent 34 years in the military.
“What a soldier eats, wears, sleeps under or . . . has dropped down supply-wise while they’re out in the field deployed — it’s researched and developed here on this 78-acre campus,” Harlow said. “General Greene pushed everybody to do every day the best they could on behalf of that soldier who’s deployed.”
Greene was a native of upstate New York, but his family had local ties. At a 2010 State House ceremony commemorating the Battle of Iwo Jima, Greene said both his parents were from Massachusetts.
He described his father and grandfather as World War II-era veterans and said their names are displayed on a monument in Franklin, according to a 2011 story on the Natick military installation’s website.
Greene leaves his wife, Susan, and two children, Matthew, who also is in the Army, and a daughter, Amelia, who recently graduated from Binghamton University in New York.
His colleagues remembered him as a diehard Sox fan.
“Every time we drove by Fenway Park, we’d stop the conversation and pay homage to Fenway Park. Seriously. Every single time,” Wood said.
After leaving Natick, Greene was given another assignment at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, where he took in Red Sox games at Camden Yards, home to the Baltimore Orioles.
Harlow said that one year, Greene went to four Red Sox games in Baltimore and a few in Boston. The Sox lost every time, so, Harlow said, he decided to intervene.
“I sent him a note: ‘Dear Sir, On behalf of Red Sox Nation, please turn in your card. You’re not needed anymore. We’d like to win every once in while,’ ” Harlow said.
Greene responded by reminding Harlow that the Sox also dropped every game Harlow attended that season.
“It was always back and forth,” Harlow said.
Greene also was known for attending school and community events.
Paul Joseph, chairman of the town’s Economic Development Committee, recalled seeing Greene at school ceremonies in Natick where each school has a student standard bearer to raise and lower the flag daily.
“He really gave some gravitas to the ceremony,” said Joseph, whose son, Noah, was a standard bearer for Johnson Elementary School that year. “I was so flattered.”
Paul Carew, the town’s director of veterans services, said Greene invited veterans to the Army center every year for a luncheon.
“He made sure he sat down with each and every veteran from the community from World War II to my generation, the Vietnam War. I don’t think he ever ate lunch,” Carew said.
Carew said he’s in “total shock” about Greene’s death.
“It seemed like yesterday he was in Natick, leading the charge,” he said.Material from the Associated Press was included in this report. Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@ globe.com.