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Memorial held for soldier slain at Afghan checkpoint

Sgt. 1st Class Matthew I. Leggett helped others traverse a war zone. In Afghanistan, Leggett, 39, served as the noncommissioned officer in charge of a drive team that shuttled coalition troops and officials between New Kabul Compound and other bases in the capital city.

The roads are crowded and dangerous - not just because of the heavy traffic, but also the threat of attack.

Leggett fell victim to those dangerous streets last week when, after stopping at a checkpoint near the Kabul airport, he was stabbed to death by an alleged low-level Taliban fighter.

This week, those who loved him remembered Leggett as a soldier, teammate, friend, brother and son.

In Kabul, a memorial was held in his honor, and troops recalled the paratrooper as someone who loved those he served with more than himself.

Speaking from Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. Joseph Anderson said the loss was difficult for those deployed.

Anderson is commander of the International Security Assistance Force Joint Command and deputy commanding general of U.S. Forces - Afghanistan.

He also is commanding general of Fort Bragg and the 18th Airborne Corps, the unit in which Leggett served.

"A loss of any of our soldiers here is tragic," Anderson said. "It's very difficult when you lose one of our own. ... These are all difficult. This one in particular."

Anderson said the attack proves that Afghanistan remains a dangerous and challenging country and said the Leggett family remains in the thoughts and prayers of those deployed.

"The hardest thing now is not being back there," he said.

Leggettt, a native of Wabasha, Minnesota, was one of three boys raised in Pepin, Wisconsin, by Thea Kurz and Thomas Leggett.

A family statement released Wednesday said the nation lost a man who could change the lives of others for the better.

"He saw the good in humanity and what we as a human race are capable of," his family said. "He cherished life! Words alone cannot describe what the nation has lost!"

Leggett had planned to retire next year. The deployment to Afghanistan was his third to a combat zone. His attacker was later arrested and confessed to the crime, according to reports.

In its statement, the family said Leggett loved the outdoors and his family.

He was remembered for childhood summers fishing and paddling around the Mississippi River and, once he was older, for quiet nights in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.

"Let's get it on," was a favored saying of the soldier, who had goals of hiking the approximately 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail from start to finish and riding his motorcycle from the Florida Keys to Alaska.

Leggett began each mission in Afghanistan by drinking a Dr. Pepper and listening to Blue Oyster Cult's "Don't Fear the Reaper."

In the memorial ceremony in Kabul on Monday, officials said Leggett was known for selfless service and being a proud cavalry scout. They offered a small token of their appreciation by opening a can of the soft drink in his honor.

In addition to his parents, Leggett is survived by his brothers, Roderick and Benjamin, two nieces and a nephew.

"Although Matt did not have any immediate family of his own, he loved his nieces and nephew like they were his own children," his family said. "The three brothers were best friends."

Leggett joined the Army in 1995 and served around the world: Afghanistan, Iraq, South Korea, Germany, Kentucky, Hawaii, Virginia, Colorado and North Carolina.

Wherever he lived, the family said, he took advantage of whatever the area had to offer.

"He saw every place he could get to, on top of mountains, to valleys, and even along trails to take a picture of a lonely rock with a heart carved into it," his family said.

The soldier also loved to cook family recipes, but most of all, he loved to comfort those in need.

"He was able to cheer up a crowded room with a simple tilt of his head and a smile," his family said. "He was always joking about something and making weird faces, but he always made people smile. If you were not smiling, you may have a prank pulled on you to make you smile.

"Those who knew Matt will miss his generous heart and his ability to make anyone smile," the family added. "Matt always cared for others, much more than he did for himself. He wore his heart proudly on his sleeve. He was an outstanding leader who cared for those above and below him."

A memorial service for Leggett will be held at Murphy Funeral Home in Arlington, Virginia, at 3 p.m. Sunday, with burial at Arlington National Cemetery at 11 a.m. Sept. 3.

The 18th Airborne Corps also will hold a unit memorial Sept. 5 on Fort Bragg.

brooksd@fayobserver.com

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© 2014 The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.) / Visit The Fayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.) at www.fayobserver.com Distributed by MCT Information Services

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