A Marine from Greenfield in western Hennepin County was killed by an IED blast Tuesday in Afghanistan, the second Marine from Minnesota to be killed there in the past two weeks.
Lance Cpl. Robert S. Greniger, 21, a combat engineer, died in Helmand Province. He was assigned to Camp Lejeune, N.C., Second Combat Engineer Battalion, Second Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force. His mother, Teresa, was in Dover, Del., Thursday night as his remains were returned.
Marine Sgt. Chad Frokjer of Maplewood was killed in combat June 30, also in Helmand Province.
Greniger joined the Marines out of Rockford High School, part of a pact with several fellow classmates who thought the military would be exciting and a way to serve their country, said Adam Lewis, who described himself as a friend of Greniger's since their days together in middle school.
Greniger enlisted in the Marines "because he wanted to be one of the elites," Lewis said. Lewis is scheduled to be deployed in April to Afghanistan with the Minnesota Army National Guard, where he is a specialist with a military police unit based in Monticello, Minn. Lewis said Greniger was proud of his service and excited about his first deployment.
Kurt Greniger said his son had been in Afghanistan since March.
"He talked about getting to know some people, especially some of the natives around the main base where he was at. He had met a little girl that looked just like his youngest sister, Greta, who's 8. He was teasing her about getting him some bread, and the girl went home and got him some bread," his father recalled.
His father is a wheelchair softball and basketball player and "he traveled with me everywhere," Kurt Greniger said. "He was our bat boy during softball."
Kurt Greniger also coached his son's summer league baseball team in Rockford for about five years. When Robert was younger, he liked karate, his father said.
"When he got focused in on something he really liked, he really focused," his father said. "When he joined the Marines, that's exactly the way it was. He really enjoyed the people he was around in boot camp and all the way through."
Lewis said that when he and Greniger were in school, they were often in class together because they both had minor learning disorders that made reading difficult. "We were in class together, in gym together. We hung out. We went fishing. We decided to join the military kind of out of boredom one day, to tell you the truth, but also because we wanted to serve our country," Lewis said.
Julie Merila, an English teacher at the high school, described Greniger as a "terrific guy" but indifferent student, not uncommon for a kid who had trouble reading.
"Once he found what he was going to do, he would go after it no-holds-barred and be driven to do the best job possible. That thing just wasn't academic," she said. "I'm not surprised he ended up in the military, and I imagine he was very good at what he was doing."
The few friends he hung out with all planned to join the military and would argue about which branch was best.
"That's the way those guys were -- 'What can I give you a hard time about now?'" she said. "At the same time, anybody from outside who would have done that, they would have been the first to step up and have each other's back. It seems like a pretty good fit all around for the military."
As word spread of Greniger's death, that same group of friends returned to the school to make sure its staff knew what had happened. With 450 students, the school and staff are described as particularly close-knit.
"It's like a big family," Merila said. "It's a different kind of loss than at a big school. Everybody knows each other."
Kurt Greniger said his son was "a very unique, loving son. More than anything he enjoyed being around his friends. He had a big heart."
Greniger is survived by his parents and his siblings Khloe, 19, Henry, 10, and Greta, 8.
Staff writer Pat Pheifer contributed to this report. Mark Brunswick 612-673-4434