A Baltimore soldier who a neighbor said "had a calling to join the Army" was among three killed Saturday in Afghanistan, the Army announced Monday.
Sgt. Eric M. Houck, 25, of Baltimore and two other soldiers died from gunshot wounds in the Peka Valley of the Nangarhar Province in Afghanistan, the Army said.
Houck and the other victims, Sgt. William M. Bays, 29, of Barstow, Calif., and Cpl. Dillon C. Baldridge, 22, of Youngsville, N.C., were members of the Army's 101st Airborne Division, the Army announced. They were supporting Operation Freedom's Sentinel.
The Army said the incident is under investigation and provided no other details.
An Afghan official told the Associated Press the deaths and injury stem from an attack by an Afghan soldier, who also died. The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid says in a statement that a Taliban loyalist had infiltrated the Afghan army "just to attack foreign forces."
Houck graduated from Perry Hall High School and married his high school sweetheart, neighbors said. They have two children, a 5-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter.
He enlisted a few years after graduating from high school and found in military duty a way to support his growing family and serve his country, his father said.
"He was a husband and father first," said his father, Mike Houck. "He was a son and brother, and then he was a soldier. His family was the most important thing to him."
He also loved playing soccer, football and baseball.
Mike Houck said he was nervous when he first learned his only son would be deploying, but Eric Houck betrayed no such worries.
"If he was nervous, he didn't let on," Houck added. "He took it bravely, as his responsibility as a soldier. He was unwavering in his dedication to that. But as a parent you're nervous every day."
Houck began his military career as a private and rose to the rank of sergeant in just three years, his father said, adding his son was responsible for traveling in forward positions with the infantry and directing air and artillery strikes.
"He was exemplary," said Houck, adding, "he was a hell of a father, a husband, a son, a brother, a soldier."
In a Facebook post, Samantha Houck called her husband her "soulmate" and "hero."
"I promise I will do all I can for our babies and I will make you proud," she wrote.
In Houck's parents' Nottingham neighborhood, friends lined the street with American flags and hung a red, white and blue wreath on the family's front door.
Bob Lukiewski, who lives across the street, remembered Houck coming to him a few years ago and saying he "had a calling to join the army."
"It takes a special person to join during wartime," said 56-year-old Lukiewski, who is flying the American flag in his front yard at half staff. "He died doing what he wanted to do. He just wanted to serve his country."
For Houck, family came first and country came second, Lukiewski said.
"He was a phenomenal father," he said. "Those children didn't want for anything. They were the most important thing to him."
He was due to come home from what was his first deployment in July, neighbors said.
"We were all anticipating his return," said Kimberly Catlett, 41, who lives next door to his parents and considers Houck's mother her best friend. "You don't ever think you're going to have to hold one of your friends while they go through this."
Gov. Larry Hogan offered his prayers to the Houck family in a Facebook post Monday. He wrote that American and Maryland flags will fly at half staff when Houck is laid to rest.
The Army posthumously awarded Houck the Bronze Star and a Purple Heart.
A GoFundMe page was set up for Houck's family.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.