GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — The death of a comrade was something Iraq-bound 172nd Infantry Brigade soldiers were prepared for — just not so soon.

Staff Sgt. Tim Rancore, who was 45, survived Operations Desert Storm/Desert Shield, two Balkans peacekeeping missions, two tours to Iraq and cancer surgery only to die in a tragic household accident as he prepared to head back into danger one more time.

German police are investigating the accident, which happened at the Netzaberg off-post military housing area, 172nd public affairs officer Capt. Stephen Short said Wednesday. A memorial service for the 19-year Army veteran was held Tuesday.

Nicknamed "Hardcore," Rancore, of Culver City, Calif., was the noncommissioned officer in charge of the brigade Tactical Operations Center.

In recent months, he helped train his soldiers in gunnery at Grafenwöhr and during a mission-rehearsal exercise at Hohenfels before supervising them as they packed their gear and took it to the desert.

One of Rancore’s friends from the brigade, Sgt. 1st class Remi Vande Voorde, 38, of Independence, Mo., said the death of a comrade is something every soldier prepares for in the lead up to a deployment.

"Any soldier has that in his mind. But you see somebody Friday morning and then Saturday morning you hear they have passed away …"

Vande Voorde said Rancore’s death is a big loss to the unit but added that the NCO had prepared others to fill his shoes.

"I don’t know if it has anything to do with how much time he spent in the Army but Staff Sgt. Rancore’s demeanor was critical to helping everybody maintain their sanity. He could look at you and let you know everything is going to be all right," Vande Voorde said.

At the memorial service, Lt. Col. John Meyer, the brigade operations officer, told soldiers, friends and family that Rancore’s legacy could be seen in the eyes of each of his young soldiers.

"The Army is not an Abrams tank, Bradley Fighting Vehicle or Apache helicopter. It is not a duty station. Those sitting around you — we are the Army," he said.

Rancore served his nation for more than 19 years, including 132 months in direct leadership in tank companies and 42 months in combat zones or peacekeeping operations, Meyer said.

"He had the highest standards for himself and inspired his soldiers to achieve greatness. No one was more professional than Staff Sgt. Rancore," he said.

Rancore is survived by his wife, Claudia, 13-year-old son, Brian, and mother, Lois Adams.

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.

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