Army Sgt. Joshua M. Hardt

Joshua M. Hardt, 24, was the youngest of three brothers, all of whom shared the same initials and were spaced about a year apart. Jonathon, also an Army sergeant, is the oldest at 26, and Jeff is 25.

While he was still in high school, Joshua Hardt took one look at his future wife, Olivia, and told friends that some day he would be with her.

" 'One day, I'll even marry her,' " she said he told her that he had bragged to his friends. "Joshua knew what he wanted and went for it."

So after Hardt finished high school, he decided to enlist in the Army as a way to provide for his future family, Olivia Hardt said. The two were married in April 2007.

On Oct. 3, Army Sgt. Joshua M. Hardt, 24, a cavalry scout, was among eight soldiers killed when hundreds of insurgents armed with automatic rifles and rocket-propelled grenades attacked two remote U.S. outposts in the Kamdesh district of eastern Afghanistan's Nuristan province, on the Pakistani border. He was assigned to the 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division at Ft. Carson, Colo.

He was on his first deployment to Afghanistan but previously had served in Iraq.

Joshua, who lived in the small Placer County community of Applegate, was the youngest of three brothers, all of whom shared the same initials and were spaced about a year apart. Jonathon is the oldest at 26, and Jeff is 25.

Their grandmother, Patricia Hardt, said her youngest grandson was always a happy-go-lucky kid. "He always had a smile on his face," she said. "Always."

Jonathon Hardt, who lives in Colorado Springs, Colo., said Joshua "played the little brother role really well."

Jonathon, an Army sergeant who recently returned from his own fourth deployment, said that when the three siblings were growing up, Joshua was like the "test dummy."

The older brother remembers teasing Joshua as a child by wrapping him up in blankets and tying belts around him. "He'd get mad, then 10 minutes later, he'd want to do it again," Jonathon said.

As the youngest of three, Joshua tried hard to stand out. "He was a go-getter," Jonathon said. "He definitely wasn't shy about his ambition."

So when Joshua, then 18, met Olivia in English class at Placer High School in Auburn in 2003, he kept after her for about a year before finally persuading her to go on a date with him.

That first date was low-key: a movie and Chinese food. He gave Olivia a piggyback ride into the cafe.

Later that night, he asked if he could give her a good-night kiss. She declined, but he touched his lips to her forehead. She reciprocated with a kiss on the cheek.

He ran down the driveway, kicked his heels in the air and exclaimed "Yes!" his wife remembers. "He was animated like that," she said.

Whether it involved caring for his wife, playing high school football or getting promoted rapidly in the Army, Joshua pushed himself hard for the right things, Jonathon said.

"If it was a task or any kind of objective that was in his path, he definitely tackled it and didn't shy away from it," Jonathon said.

Joshua was proud of being in the military and of following in his brother's footsteps as a sergeant, said their father, Mike Hardt. "He was so eager to move up," he said. "He would joke about it and say there will be a day when my brother will salute me."

Mike Sabins, who was Joshua's football coach at Placer High, said the young man worked hard and was respected by the coaching staff and other players on the team. Although he was new to the school in his senior year, he fit in well with the football program, the coach said.

"He just did a great job," Sabins said. Joshua's talent and dedication were honored when his helmet was retired after his senior year, the coach said.

Joshua also loved trout and bass fishing, playing baseball and practicing karate.

He took any opportunity he could to better himself, Jonathon said: "He wanted to prove there wasn't anything he couldn't do."

Olivia Hardt, of Auburn, said the military was changing her husband for the better -- he was becoming more mature and had started seeing a military chaplain regularly for advice. She said he also was sending her fresh flowers -- red roses, or white and pink tulips -- just about every week. "He was being the best husband a guy could possibly be," she said.

Joshua had told his wife that the chaplain had urged him to treat her like a queen every single day until death.

And he did, she said.

nicole.santacruz@latimes.com