Raymond J. Faulstich Jr., an Army private first class from Leonardtown in Southern Maryland, was killed in action in Iraq last week, the Department of Defense said yesterday.

Faulstich, 24, was killed Thursday when the convoy he was traveling with near the city of Najaf was hit by small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades, the department said in a news release. The incident is under investigation, the department said.

Raymond J. Faulstich Sr. of Leonardtown said his son's commander told the family he was hit just under the armpit while driving the lead truck. The commander said Faulstich continued driving and probably saved other members of his unit by carrying them away from enemy fire.

"She said that if he had stopped, things would have been a lot worse," the elder Faulstich said.

The soldier was driving a truck for the first time, his father said, in a break from his normal work manning machine guns on cargo vehicles. Faulstich said his son had been in Iraq for a few weeks and had not mentioned seeing combat the last time he spoke to his parents about a week ago. "But he said he was going to a bad area," Faulstich said.

He said his son usually called home every few days to talk to his parents or his wife of less than a year, Crystal. Faulstich described his son's glee at seeing a herd of camels and blowing up a truck with three shots of a grenade launcher during training. His son spoke of buying up Iraqi currency and taking advantage of the exchange rate to accumulate a little cash, he said.

Faulstich said his son enlisted in March last year because he was tired of drifting through life and thought the Army could "make a man of him." He was deployed to the Middle East in June. His father said he did not mind going to a dangerous area as much as leaving his new wife.

He described his son as an easygoing person whose big, blue eyes attracted a steady stream of girls. The younger Faulstich liked tinkering with cars more than going to school at Leonardtown High but earned a General Educational Development diploma in 2000.

Between school and the time he entered the Army, he waited tables, worked as a short-order cook and put up vinyl siding, among other odd jobs.

An aunt, Janet Faulstich of Parkville, remembered him as a quiet boy who loved cars and always cooked the mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving dinner.

"What I remember most of all is that he always had a smile on his face," she said. "He was just a pleasure to be around."

She said she last heard from him via e-mail in June, when he was training in Kuwait. She said he was uncomfortable with the 120-degree temperatures and asked that she send Gatorade.

"But he said it wasn't as bad as he thought it would be," she said.

Faulstich was assigned to the 89th Transportation Company, 6th Transportation Battalion, Seventh Transportation Group. The company is based at Fort Eustis, Va.

A spokeswoman from Fort Eustis said he was the first soldier from the post, a center for Army transportation near Newport News, to be killed in Iraq.

As of yesterday, 928 U.S. service members had died in Iraq since March last year, according to the Defense Department. A memorial service is scheduled for 2 p.m. tomorrow at the post chapel.

Funeral arrangements in Leonardtown were pending last night.

In addition to his father and his wife, the former Crystal Wathen of Leonardtown, survivors include his mother, Linda Faulstich of Leonardtown; a brother, Gregory Faulstich of Leonardtown; and a sister, Jacqueline Stone of Rockville.