SSGT Eric D. Christian
Hometown: Ramsey, New Jersey
Age: 39 years old
Died: May 4, 2013 in Operation Enduring Freedom
Unit: Assigned to 2nd Marine Special Operations Battalion, U.S. Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command in Camp Lejeune, N.C.
RAMSEY — He was one of four athletic brothers who starred on the fields of Ramsey High School in the small Bergen County town, and came to serve in the U.S. Marine Corps halfway around the world.
On Saturday, Eric D. Christian, 39, a Marine special forces staff sergeant and former high school football player, was killed in action in Farah province, Afghanistan, in what a younger brother, Phillip, said was an attack by an Afghan National Army soldier whom Christian had been training.
"He was the best guy I knew," said Phillip Christian, 36, who said he last saw his brother at Thanksgiving.
He said friends and former high school classmates have been calling since the news of his brother’s death.
And when Eric Christian’s body was flown home from Afghanistan, his brother said he was told that 150 Marines lined the tarmac.
"He felt a strong sense of commitment to the guys he served with and the guys he led," said Phillip Christian, who lives in Costa Rica. "I think it’s pretty self-evident."
The fallen Marine’s body is expected to arrive in Dover, Del., today, and burial will be in Arlington National Cemetery. His family said funeral services had not yet been finalized.
A spokesman for the Department of Defense said the incident that killed Christian and another Marine, Cpl. David M. Sonka, 23, of Parker, Colo., was under investigation.
Phillip Christian said he was told it was an attack by an Afghan soldier — something referred to as a "green on blue" incident.
He said his brother was leading a team of six American servicemen and an Afghan soldier they were training when the Afghan opened fire on two Marines. Both were killed, as was a military dog.
"This (the Afghan soldier) was a guy they were training to defend his own country," Christian said. "He basically opened fire on the two people that were in front of him."
The NATO-led coalition in Afghanistan reported that Saturday was one of the deadliest days for Americans and other foreign troops. In addition to the two shooting deaths, five international troops were killed by a roadside bomb.
Eric Christian is the 49th soldier with ties to New Jersey to be killed in the war in Afghanistan. Another 102 have died in Iraq.
Eric Christian entered the Marine Corp in May 2004, and at the time of his death was assigned to 2nd Marine Special Operations Battalion, U.S. Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command in Camp Lejeune, N.C., according to a Marine Corps press release.
He was on his fifth tour of duty, according to his brother, who said Eric Christian enlisted in the Marines after a younger brother, Mark, 32, did.
"He was feeling a sense of wanting to protect his little brother, and a sense of patriotism," Phillip Christian said.
Eric Christian served both in Afghanistan and Iraq, and received numerous decorations and medals.
In Ramsey Monday, he was remembered as a star high school football player, one of four athletic brothers. The second-oldest of four brothers, Eric Christian graduated from the high school in 1993.
The interim superintendent, Bruce DeYoung — who had also been superintendent when Christian was in high school — said he remembered Eric and his family, especially receiving athletic awards.
The fallen Marine was also a musician, and spent several years playing in Seattle and San Francisco, his brother said. After graduating from high school, he attended college in Louisiana for a year, where he also played football.
He was single and had no children, his brother said. His mother, Linda, lives in Warwick, N.Y., and his father, Robert, in Virginia.
De Young said he notified Eric’s former football coach, who is now retired and living in Florida, of the young man’s death.
"This is a small school and there’s a sense of family," DeYoung said. "Even people who didn’t know Eric personally look at it as a loss of one of their own."