At the Clinton-Graceville-Beardsley High School in far-western Minnesota, yellow, white and blue ribbons were hanging Monday in honor of a 1997 graduate who died in Iraq.
Staff Sgt. Kevin M. Witte, 27, formerly of Beardsley on the Minnesota-South Dakota border, died Friday in Baghdad from injuries sustained in a bomb explosion.
He was on combat patrol at the time, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.
"Everybody's sympathy goes out to the family, and we all have a great deal of respect for what Kevin has done," Principal Larry Mischke said Monday.
Witte was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 6th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, First Armored Division based in Baumholder, Germany.
Relatives in Beardsley said they were too distraught to speak publicly about Witte or his death, saying only that he was a good soldier.
Witte had served at least one prior tour of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"He was just a solid troop that everybody could count on," said John Hill, a former Air Force captain whom Witte served under at Maryland's Fort Meade from about 2002 to 2004. "He always had a smile on his face."
Hill added: "He did things that not everybody would volunteer to do."
As evidence, Hill cited the parachutist training for which Witte had signed up, as well as the signals intelligence expert job he learned at Fort Meade before one of his deployments.
"[Those] are not exactly the safest jobs to have," Hill said.
He said he wasn't surprised to see, in a recent picture of Witte provided by his family, several Army commendations decorating his uniform.
"I can see those ribbons pretty clearly," Hill said. "That's exactly what I'd expect."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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