They were talking about it at a family barbecue, and the gas station also was abuzz with the news.
Specialist Brent W. Koch, 22, one of the local guys in the Minnesota National Guard who had shipped over to Iraq only three months ago, had been killed Friday of injuries he received when a
roadside bomb detonated near his vehicle.
Family and friends mourned in nearby Franklin, and bleachers full of racing fans observed a moment of silence Sunday evening at the Redwood Speedway in Redwood Falls, where Koch had worked as part of a pit crew.
A handful of spectators wore T-shirts emblazoned with his photo.
"He was so proud of what he did," family friend Gary Robinson, of Redwood Falls, said of Koch's military service. "He was a good kid. Just a happy-go-lucky guy. Always had a smile on his face."
Two other Minnesota National Guard members were injured in the explosion in Ad Diwaniyah, Iraq, and are scheduled to be transported to hospitals in Germany, said Maj. Kevin Olson, spokesman for the Minnesota National Guard. Their identities were not released because of privacy issues, but Olson said both men have spoken with their families.
Koch is the 38th person with Minnesota ties to die in the Mideast during the war in Iraq. He is also believed to be the fourth Minnesota Guard member to die in the war.
He was deployed to Iraq in March along with 2,600 other Minnesota National Guard members for a 12-month tour of duty, said Olson. It was the largest overseas deployment of the Minnesota Guard since World War II.
Koch was assigned to the Guard's Company E, 2nd Battalion, 136th Infantry Combined Arms Battalion, a combat engineer company headquartered in Hutchinson that consisted of soldiers primarily from Hutchinson, Litchfield and Redwood Falls.
Guard members deployed with Koch were responsible for convoy security, base security and operating checkpoints throughout Iraq, Olson said. He added that it was unclear exactly what Koch was doing when the explosion occurred.
Bringing the war home
Tom Ahrens said Koch moved next door to him three years ago, renting a house while he worked for a farmer in Morton. He said Koch also worked at one time for a mobile home manufacturer.
He learned of Koch's death Saturday morning and couldn't believe it.
"It made me angry about the war," Ahrens said. At the same time, he added, Koch "wanted to do this so bad."
It brought the war into focus, Ahrens said.
Robinson, whose son was a good friend of Koch's, described him as a hard worker who often helped around the house.
Ray Hansen and her husband, Mark, are friends of Koch's family. Koch, she said, was a wonderful boy whom she had known since he ran around with her kids. "He was courteous, that's for sure," she said.
Koch grew up in the Morton-Franklin area, and attended Cedar Mountain High School.
"When he was committed to something, he'd put every effort into it and just gave 100 percent," said Cedar Mountain Schools Superintendent Bob Tews.
On the football field, Koch was primarily what one former coach called a "very hard-nosed" linebacker and wide receiver.
Tews said that school officials will turn to current students for ideas on how to best remember Koch and offer support to his family. He said that Koch is not the only former Cedar Mountatin student to
have served in Iraq.
"Part of me wants to just kind of go lock the door and cover my head up," Tews said. "But on the other side, I sit there and think of what he's done, and what all of our kids in Cedar Mountain and
throughout the state have done."