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JOHNSTON, Iowa (AP) - A soldier from Grimes has become the third Iowan to die this month in Afghanistan, military officials confirmed Sunday.
Staff Sgt. James Justice, 32, of Grimes, died Saturday of wounds suffered in an insurgent attack in Kapisa province, according to a release from the U.S. Department of Defense. His unit came under small arms fire.
Wounded in the attack was Spc. Zachary Durham, 21, of Des Moines. Both Soldiers were assigned to Troop A, 1st Squadron, 113th Cavalry, Camp Dodge, Johnston, Iowa.
Justice was among four deaths confirmed Sunday by military officials. Soldiers from Texas, New Jersey and New Mexico were killed Friday in Afghanistan.
"One thing James was to everyone was the ultimate soldier. He loved the military and he looked forward to every deployment," the Justice family said in a released statement. "While we were stunned and extremely saddened to learn of his tragic death, we all take solace knowing that James died doing what he loved best: serving his country beside the men and women he revered and trusted."
Judy Erb, whose son Jason was a close friend of Justice's, told The Des Moines Register that Justice welcomed helping others and enjoyed making people laugh.
"He would have never thought for a moment about helping someone out. He would always just jump in," Erb said.
She added, "He's a hero, just like all those other boys over there."
The attack that killed Justice and injured Durham happened during a rescue operation of a U.S. Army helicopter crew who were injured when their aircraft made a hard landing. Justice and Durham responded to the scene as members of a Quick Reaction Force and came under fire from enemy forces at the crash site, according the military.
Justice died at the scene and Durham was evacuated for medical treatment. No additional information is available regarding Durham's condition or medical status.
"The outpouring of support and prayers during this time from friends, fellow soldiers and strangers alike has been astonishing, but proved what we all knew: that James was a one-of-a-kind guy and deeply loved by all who had the opportunity to know him and serve with him," the Justice family statement said.
About 2,800 Iowa soldiers are currently deployed in Afghanistan. Justice was the third killed there in recent weeks, and several others were hurt.
Spc. Brent Maher, 31, of Honey Creek, died when the vehicle in which he was a gunner was hit by the bomb April 11 in Paktia province. Three other soldiers were wounded in the attack. All four soldiers were with the 1st Battalion, 168th Infantry based in Shenandoah.
A few days later, on April 13, Spc. Donald Nichols, 31, of Shell Rock, was killed and another Iowa soldier injured in a similar incident in Laghman province. Both were members of the 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry based in Wahoo.
Funerals for Maher and Nichols were held in Iowa during the past few days.