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Fort Carson soldier remembered for humor, leadership

The Wykstra clan packed into Fort Carson's Provider Chapel Tuesday morning.

Soldiers shuffled to make more room as four reserved rows of pews proved inadequate for the family during the memorial service for Pfc. Jacob Wykstra, 21-year-old Thornton man who died in Afghanistan on May 28 while serving with the post's 4th Brigade Combat Team.

Troops stood to mourn a soldier eulogists described as light-hearted, loving and dedicated to serving his country.

"Jake really was Colorado's white knight," explained his friend Pfc. Ian Brannigan, who traveled from Washington to honor a man he'd known since sixth grade.

Wykstra had been in the Army just over a year, but showed enough potential to be picked for the brigade's quick reaction force -- soldiers who fly into battle on helicopters to rapidly repel enemy moves.

A helicopter crash outside Kandahar killed Wykstra and left more than a dozen other troops wounded.

His battalion commander wrote in a letter read at the service that Wykstra, dubbed "Wyk" by his Army buddies, was a soldier that leaders admired for a key Army skill -- laughter in the face of adversity.

"His sense of humor helped others laugh at him and in turn themselves," Lt. Col. Dave Voorhies said.

Wykstra was known by his platoon mates as a laid-back guy, a skate boarder in uniform who seemed to like everyone.

"No matter how much the situation sucked, if 'Wyk' was with me, I would always have a smile," said Pfc. Richard Chae.

But there was a serious side to Wykstra, on display during basic training as he courted his future wife, Katie, by mail.

Brannigan said Wykstra would fret over every word in letters and enlisted him to proofread love notes.

They married shortly after Wykstra finished basic training.

At Fort Carson, leaders saw that Wykstra cared about his fellow soldiers.

"A natural leader, he was one of those soldiers who motivated non-commissioned officers to come to work," Voorhies wrote.

Chae said he saw Wykstra's leadership in action.

"He was always there, always taking care of me," he said.

Brannigan said that's no surprise. In school, Wykstra was the kid who would pick his lunchroom seat to be near those who would otherwise eat alone.

"The best word I could use to describe Jake is radiant," Brannigan said. "His joy was contagious."

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