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Family, friends mourn local soldier killed in Afghanistan

GRANITE FALLS -- Family and friends are mourning the loss of Army Sgt. Matthew Ryan Kahler of Granite Falls, but also finding solace in knowing that he died doing what he believed in and loved.

GRANITE FALLS -- Family and friends are mourning the loss of Army Sgt. Matthew Ryan Kahler of Granite Falls, but also finding solace in knowing that he died doing what he believed in and loved.

"He was the epitome of a soldier,'' said Ben Lecy, an instructor at Yellow Medicine East High School in Granite Falls where Kahler was a 1997 graduate. "He cared more about the welfare of his country than anyone I can think of. All he ever wanted to do was protect and serve.''

Kahler, 29, died Saturday in Afghanistan after being shot near the mountainside village of Waygul. He was declared dead at an Army base in Fenty. Army officials believe an Afghanistan guard mistook him for an enemy, according to reports published Monday.

Family members learned of his death Saturday morning, according to Kahler's father-in-law Ernie Streich, of rural Granite Falls.

Ernie and Linda Streich's daughter, Vicki, called them about 7 a.m. with the news of her husband's death.

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Vicki, her husband and their 4-year-old daughter have been living for about eight years near Vicenza, Italy. Vicki and Matthew were high school sweethearts who married in 1998, according to Streich.

Sgt. Kahler was a member of the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team, which is based at Caserma Ederle, Vicenza, Italy.

Streich said his son-in-law had served two prior duties in Iraq before re-enlisting and serving this tour in Afghanistan. "He figured it was his duty,'' Streich said.

"Very, very patriotic,'' said Lynn Williams of Montevideo, a friend of Kahler's mother, Colleen Kahler. Colleen Kahler is a special education teacher at the Ramsey School in Montevideo, where she lives.

Matthew Kahler's father, Ron Kahler, lives in New Ulm and is remarried.

Williams remembers Matthew Kahler as the family friend who grew up across the street from her. "He's always been a kind, loving gentleman,'' she said. She said his love for the military was already apparent when he was a young boy. "His heart was in it,'' she said.

Kahler enlisted in the service during his junior year at high school. His nephew and niece currently attend the Yellow Medicine East Schools. Kahler's death came as somber news at the school, where students took time during the day to talk about it with staff and one another, according to High School Principal Karen Norell. She said the school also received calls through the day from former classmates seeking information and expressing their desire to honor his memory.

Lecy, who knew the soldier as both a student and friend of the family, had a difficult time holding back tears while describing his memories of Kahler.

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He said both Kahler and his family were well aware of the risk that he took serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, perhaps more so than most. They always joked -- but only halfway so -- that it wasn't so much a matter of "if" but "when" Kahler would be a target.

"He always stepped forward when no one else would,'' Lecy said. "Sergeant Matthew Ryan Kahler always stepped forward without hesitation. Always. He truly was my hero.''

Lecy said Kahler believed in his mission in Iraq and Afghanistan. He felt that much of the criticism came from people who did not understand our role. Lecy said he never let it bother him. "He would always go back and fight.''

Lecy said that Kahler, while a young student, scraped together $10 one year so that he could attend an American Indian multicultural event. Kahler continued to join Lecy at the event for years, expressing his belief in its importance.

Every year after joining the service, Kahler would send Lecy a card with a $10 bill attached and a note that it should be used to pay the way for another student to attend the event. The card always came at the end of January, Lecy said.

"That was Matt Ryan Kahler,'' said Lecy. "He was just a great kid.''

Streich said family members are planning to hold the funeral service at the Granite Falls Lutheran Church in Granite Falls, but will not be able to set a date until today or later. He said many of Kahler's fellow soldiers in Italy and elsewhere are planning to attend.

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