HAMPTON—Army Private 1st Class Aaron Gautier knew what it felt like to get shot at, he told his father last weekend when he called home from Iraq.
"He said it came from a crowd of civilians," Dan Gautier said Friday. "He described the sound -- a cracking through the air."
Dan told him to be careful. Aaron assured him that "he had his head on straight."
Gautier (pronounced go-TEER) didn't want to die in Iraq, he told his father. He wanted to make it home to his new wife and back to Hampton where he was born and raised.
The 19-year-old soldier was killed in Iraq on Thursday.
He deployed in April with the 4th Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division.
Dan Gautier said his son was on a combat patrol -- helping search for the soldiers who went missing May 12 -- when a roadside bomb detonated near his armored vehicle. After the explosion, the troops were attacked with small- arms fire. Aaron was evacuated to a nearby military hospital where he died from his wounds.
Two other soldiers were killed and one was wounded Thursday just south of Baghdad, the Defense Department said Friday. The military is withholding their names until the families are notified.
That's the same region where the four soldiers disappeared after an ambush last week. Three remain missing. One is now listed as killed in action.
Dan Gautier was notified Thursday evening, first by a phone call while driving home from work. The Caller ID said it was Lindsey Gautier, Aaron's wife.
"All I could make out was, 'Aaron's dead.' "
When Dan pulled up to his house, he climbed out of the car and dropped to his knees.
Tracy Gautier, Aaron's stepmother, saw her husband and immediately knew what had happened.
Dan Gautier waited to tell the rest of the family until the Army officers came to officially notify him.
Maybe it wasn't true, he thought. Maybe the Army had gotten Aaron's dog tags mixed up with another soldier's and Aaron would call home apologizing for the huge mistake.
The casualty notification officer and a military chaplain from Fort Eustis arrived minutes later.
"When you hear news like this, it's like you're in a twilight zone," Dan Gautier said. "Time has a way of reality settling in. We just hope he didn't suffer."
To his family, Aaron was a fun-loving, goofy kid with a good heart. He was also something of a challenge during his teenage years, his father said.
The Army matured him.