Brian Bill was a skier, pilot and triathlete who aspired to become an astronaut. He was also a member of the elite U.S. Navy SEALs fighting in Afghanistan.
The 1997 graduate of Trinity Catholic High in Stamford was one of 30 U.S. troops killed over the weekend when a Chinook helicopter crashed after being fired on in Afghanistan.
The U.S. fighters and seven Afghans who died in Saturday's crash were on a mission targeting a Taliban leader when an insurgent with a rocket-propelled grenade reportedly fired on the chopper and shot it down, officials said Monday. It was deadliest single loss for U.S. forces in the decade-long war.
The helicopter was transporting the troops to an ongoing battle between coalition forces and insurgents in eastern Wardak province, NATO said in a statement. The chopper arrived to answer a call for help from another elite force, the Western military alliance said publicly for the first time.
For his family and friends, it was the kind of mission Bill was prepared to fight.
"He loved life, he loved a challenge and he was passionate about being a SEAL. He loved and respected his SEAL teammates. He was a consummate professional and demanded perfection of himself," Bill's mother and stepfather, Patricia and Michael Parry, and his father, Scott Bill, said in the statement.
"We mourn his life of unfulfilled dreams. Already an accomplished mountaineer, skier, pilot, and triathlete , he wanted to complete the seven summits, he wanted to return to graduate school, he wanted become an astronaut. We are heartbroken in our loss."
Bill, 31, received his electrical engineering degree in 2001 from Norwich University in Vermont, a private military academy, the university said. A member of the school's Corps of Cadets, he was on the university's swim team, a spokeswoman said.
"This is a huge loss for the SEALs, for the Navy, for Norwich, the nation, and especially for all of the grieving families," said Norwich Vice President for Student Affairs Michael B. Kelley. "He was an extraordinary man. We are proud that Norwich produces the men and women of character like Brian that want to be great warriors for this nation."
At Trinity Catholic, Bill played soccer and ice hockey, said Tracy Nichols, the school's athletic director.
"He was a very low-key type of kid," Nichols said. He was polite, and not aggressive, he said.
While "he wasn't the star of the teams," he had a "tremendous work ethic," he said.
"He was always in the weight room," Nichols said. "I can see how he became successful, because he carried that work ethic."
Joe Quinn, Trinity Catholic's president, said the high school's teachers remember Bill as a respectful student.
"We are saddened by his passing," Quinn said. "Our thoughts go out to the family for their loss. We want to truly honor an American hero."
Kimberly Hess, a friend who graduated from Norwich University in Vermont with him in 2001, told the Associated Press that Bill had been decorated many times for valor on deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.
"He set his standards high. He was that kind of person," said Hess. "He was remarkably gifted and very thoughtful. There wasn't anything he wouldn't do for you no matter the time or day."
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy also offered his condolences to Bill's family.
Previous reports had been contradictory about whether the Chinook helicopter carrying the SEALs was arriving or departing the scene in Afghanistan's Wardak province. The chopper was apparently downed by insurgent fire.
A statement from NATO's International Security Assistance Force, the first detailed public accounting of the incident, said the operation "began as a security search for a Taliban leader responsible for insurgent operations in the nearby Tangi Valley."
The initial team on the ground, not the SEALs, spotted insurgents armed with rocket-propelled grenades in the area and engaged them, and at about the same time issued a call for help. The statement did not identify the original team on the ground. Some published reports have said it was a unit of Army Rangers.
Los Angeles Times and Associated Press reports are included in this story.