NORTHBOROUGH — An Army paratrooper with the famed 82d Airborne Division, remembered for his genteel manner, wit, and determination to be a soldier, was killed by gunfire this week in Afghanistan, the Pentagon said Friday.
Specialist Brian K. Arsenault was killed about 9 p.m. Thursday as his unit was engaged in small-arms fire with enemy combatants in the city of Ghazni, according to his family and the Department of Defense.
The 28-year-old had enlisted in 2011, and his tour in Afghanistan was scheduled to end in November.
“Something in him, he wanted to be a soldier,” his father, Daniel, said outside the family’s home Friday, flanked by a dozen or so relatives and friends.
He recalled his son’s “devilish good looks,” his smile, and his wit. “Those things will last with us forever,” he said.
Brian Arsenault’s younger sister, Lindsey, fought back tears as she showed off a collage of photos of her brother with family members and friends, many from Christmases they had spent together.
“Brian was a vibrant free spirit that has forever touched so many lives,” his father said. “As a family, the sorrow is unbearable.”
Arsenault completed his airborne training in 2012 and joined the 82d Airborne, based in Fort Bragg, N.C. He was a grenadier with B Company, First Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, First Brigade Combat Team.
The 82d was activated in 1917 as an airborne infantry division specializing in parachute assault operations, and it has been involved in every major US war since then, as well as regional conflicts and rescue operations.
Lieutenant Colonel Chris Hockenberry, Arsenault’s battalion commander, said in a prepared statement: “We have suffered a great loss . . . and express our deepest condolences. Specialist Arsenault was an exceptional paratrooper and a valued member of our team.”
“Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends during this difficult time.”
Adam Costello of the Central Massachusetts Veterans Service District said Friday that the Army has assigned a uniformed representative to work directly with the family, and that “the town of Northborough stands united to respect the wishes of the family and offer them support by every means available.” Funeral plans are not yet complete.
Arsenault was at least the 48th service member from Massachusetts killed in Afghanistan, according to the state Department of Veterans’ Services. He is believed to be the first service member from Northborough to die in a major conflict since the Vietnam War.
His awards and decorations include the Purple Heart Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, and the NATO Medal.
“We must be strong for our son, who has given his life for a cause that he believed in,” said his father, who has kept a hockey puck in his pocket since he got the devastating news about his son’s death. It now serves as a reminder of the times the two spent playing the sport together.
By Friday, news of the tragedy had spread throughout Northborough, a close-knit town that Costello said supported him when he served in Iraq.
Daniel Meininger, who has lived here for 15 years, said he has two sons, and said it was “heartbreaking for that to occur . . . It’ll be felt throughout the entire community.”
Elizabeth Morse, 44, said she heard the news on the radio.
‘It’s sad for the family,” she said. ‘It’s a small town; people know each other.”
Arsenault was a 2004 graduate of Algonquin Regional High School, where he played hockey and baseball. Many of his old friends would come back to the house through the years, including when Arsenault was on leave from the Army, his father said.
Tom Meade, principal of the high school, said Friday that many of the students and staff were shocked by the news, which began to trickle throughout the school Thursday. He said the Arsenault family is large and well known in the community, with many siblings and cousins, and many knew Brian Arsenault.
Meade said he heard from a parent who recalled how Arsenault, as a teenager, had the manners to ask for a father’s permission to take a girl on a date.
“The Arsenault family is a bedrock family in Northborough,” Meade said. “We’re reeling from this thing today. It’s hitting home.”