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'The worst day in our family's history,' grieving uncle says of Chicago soldier killed in combat in Afghanistan

Army Spc. Michael Isaiah Nance, who was killed in an insider attack in Afghanistan Monday, was remembered by family as a fun-loving, caring son whose dream was to join the Army.

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By KATHERINE ROSENBERG-DOUGLAS | The Chicago Tribune | Published: August 1, 2019

CHICAGO (Tribune News Service) — Army Spc. Michael Isaiah Nance of Chicago had only been in Afghanistan about two weeks when he was killed in combat Monday, his great uncle said.

As his mother was in Delaware retrieving his remains, Nance, 24, who grew up on the South Side was remembered Wednesday by his “Uncle Shay,” his grandfather’s brother, Kenon Forest. Nance deployed July 12, Forest said, and Monday — after the funeral of Nance’s great-grandfather, a Korean War veteran — soldiers came to the house to notify his mother Nance had been killed while serving in Operation Freedom’s Sentinel in Uruzgan province, Afghanistan.

“The unfortunate part is we had laid his great-grandfather to rest, we buried my dad Monday morning. Then they come to the house Monday evening with this news. It was like the worst day in our family’s history,” Forest said.

The Department of Defense in a news release said two soldiers died as a result of wounds suffered in combat. Pfc. Brandon Jay Kreischer, 20, of Ohio, also was killed.

The U.S. Army confirmed Nance joined in 2017 and was one of two 82nd Airborne Division paratroopers killed.

After completing basic and other training, including Airborne School, at Fort Benning, Georgia, he was assigned to the 1-505th Parachute Infantry Regiment as a rifleman, according to the Army. He received awards and decorations including the Purple Heart and Bronze Star, according to the Army.

Nance had to convince his mother, Shawn Gregoire, to give her blessing for him to join the Army. His great-grandfather, Sam Forest, was a Korean War veteran and as long as anyone in the family can remember, “Isaiah,” as the family calls Nance, wanted to join the Army and become a paratrooper, Kenon Forest said.

“It was always, ‘mom, I want to join the Army,’ and she’d say ‘Nope,' Then the next year, ‘I want to join up,’ and again, ‘Nope.’ Over and over like that for years," Forest said. "Finally she decided to let him go.”

Forest said Nance enrolled at a university in Florida for a few years, in part, he believes, to convince his mother to let him join up. Asked what Nance studied, Forest chuckled and said, “Probably studying how to get into the Army, knowing him.”

Pentagon spokeswoman Jessica Maxwell said the attack is under investigation. Officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to make comments, told The Associated Press an Afghan soldier shot and killed the two Americans.

Nance celebrated his 24th birthday with family in Chicago on June 1, while on leave, Forest said. Nance’s mother then took her son on a trip to Europe, where they visited London, Paris and Croatia, he said.

“She wanted people to know he died doing what he enjoyed doing, which was his lifelong dream of being in the Army,” Forest said of Gregoire.

Forest said Nance loved wrestling, anime and playing video games with his 13-year-old brother. When it came to food in Chicago, he’d choose soul food every time.

Nance’s cousin, Trevor Harris, said Nance was “energetic, athletic, funny, humble, all of the things you’d want your kid to be.”

“He didn’t like to see others sad, which is part of what makes this so difficult. He was the one to lift everyone’s spirits in a time like this,” Harris said.

Forest said Gregoire enrolled Nance at a high school in the northwest suburbs in an effort to “get him away from the life,” in his neighborhood.

He became a foodie and a travel connoisseur. After his recent travels, he already had his next destination in mind: Ireland. He loved to mess around with his grandfather, Ray Williamson, especially around family.

“They’re just goofing around like big kids. He was kind of the joker, he kept people laughing,” Forest said.

The only time he exhibited any quiet behavior or any reservations was when he learned he was being deployed.

“He had a nervous energy about it. It was his first deployment, so going into something for the first time, it was just that he knew what to expect and what could happen,” Forest said.

"He had more courage than me,” he added.

The news of Nance’s death comes days after about 400 Illinois Army National Guard soldiers were called up in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel in Afghanistan, where some 14,000 American troops are serving.

U.S. troops have been in Afghanistan for 18 years, the country’s longest involvement in any war. In those years, more than 2,000 American service members have died in Afghanistan, according to the Defense Department.

Gregoire was expected to return to Chicago late Wednesday.

“We’re thanking God for his strength, is where we’re at now. We’re all just keeping (Gregoire) prayed up, being strong for her," Forest said, and paused. "It’s just unimaginable.”

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