'Soldier's soldier' from Arundel dies in Iraq ambush

sun reporter

On his personal Web site, Army Staff Sgt. Christopher Swanson called himself "Just a regular Joe," and he blogged about growing up in the 1990s, and the valor of soldiers and of his troops.

"They are my life and my family right now," he wrote on his myspace.com page, which family and friends used to post word of gatherings and milestones. "I would do anything for them even if it means giving my life to save theirs."

On Saturday, Sergeant Swanson, who wrote that his goal was to bring his soldiers home safe, died in an ambush in Anbar, his family said yesterday. The southern Anne Arundel County resident was 25.

The Department of Defense had not confirmed Sergeant Swanson's death as of yesterday evening, but his family was making funeral preparations. More than 50 Maryland soldiers have died in the war in Iraq.

"Chris was a dedicated servant, he was a leader, and he wanted to be out front," said Glenn Swanson, his uncle. "He was going to be a career soldier, that's what it looked liked to us."

It looked that way because Sergeant Swanson, of Rose Haven, kept serving. He was on his third tour of Iraq when he was killed.

Public service was something he learned from his parents - both work in law enforcement - and began years ago.

As a teenager, he traveled on mission trips with members of First Baptist Church in Upper Marlboro, preaching the gospel on Florida's beaches and teaching lessons about love, honor and integrity to gang members in Ohio.

In West Virginia, he helped build part of a church, moving concrete and hammering nails in the afternoon sun.

At Southern High School in Anne Arundel County, where he was captain of the soccer team, he was the student who spent his free period in the principal's office.

Not because he was in trouble, but because he wanted to help.

"He was always lending a hand, running errands, sorting mail, making copies," said Carole Nutwell, an administrative secretary at Southern High. "He was just a really happy-go-lucky, likable kid."

Toward the end of his junior year, he began talking about joining the military, said his father, Gary Swanson.

By his senior year, his mind was made up, even when others tried to dissuade him.

In August 1999, three months after he graduated from high school, he enlisted. "You don't ever want to let loose of a child, but it was his decision, and we supported him," said his father. "He could have chosen any career in life, but this is something that he wanted, to serve his county."

Sergeant Swanson served in Kosovo as a member of the 82nd Airborne Division, and was part of the initial assault on Iraq in March 2003, his uncle said. He returned home in October of that year and was redeployed a month later.

His third tour began in November last year. He was awarded two Purple Hearts, his uncle said.

The second came about two weeks ago, when he was injured by an improvised explosive device.

He refused to be sidelined, he wrote his brother, Kenneth Swanson, after the incident.

His troops needed him.

"Chris' main thing was to be there for his men, he got them to the places where they needed to be," his uncle said. "He was a true soldier's soldier."

With his father, he enjoyed fishing and following the Ravens and Orioles.

His father said he would leave an empty seat for his son at the games.

"He was every man's dream son, but he didn't stand out. He was just an average kid, doing what he loved, " he said. "He's our hero. ... This has brought us to our knees."

Funeral services are planned for 11 a.m. Tuesday at First Baptist Church in Upper Marlboro. Sergeant Swanson will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Additional survivors include his grandparents, Roger and Tillie Swanson of Phillippi, W.Va., and Peggy and Conrad C. Sloan of Zephyrhills, Fla.


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