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Family remembers fallen soldier

WILLMAR -- Spc. Kyle R. Miller's family recalled a loving, and fun-loving, young man who was proud to serve in the Minnesota National Guard on Saturday.

WILLMAR -- Spc. Kyle R. Miller's family recalled a loving, and fun-loving, young man who was proud to serve in the Minnesota National Guard on Saturday.

The family issued two public statements during a news conference at the National Guard Armory in Willmar Saturday afternoon.

Miller, 19, of Willmar died Thursday evening near Balad, Iraq, when a roadside bomb exploded. Miller was a passenger in the lead vehicle escorting a convoy.

Lt. Col. Kevin Gutknecht, the rear detachment commander of the 1st of the 34th Brigade Combat Team, spoke for the National Guard. He was surrounded by somber family members during the short news conference.

Miller's father, Randy Miller of Willmar, stood to Gutknecht's left. He held his wife Candy's hand and looked out at reporters from behind dark glasses. Miller's mother, Kathy Miller of Bird Island, stood on Gutknecht's other side with her teenage daughter Kim. They were surrounded by family members and friends.

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Family members did not answer questions after the news conference.

In separate statements, his parents expressed their love and pride in their son.

In her statement, read by Gutknecht, Kathy Miller called her Kyle Miller "a great son, great brother, great friend" who will be missed by all.

"Kyle was outgoing, fun loving, and he always wanted to make everyone laugh," she said in her statement.

The family was comforted by the comments of their church's youth pastor on Friday, Randy Miller said in his statement. Anita Grue of Vinje Lutheran Church in Willmar told the Tribune that she could tell from the questions he asked her that Miller had grown closer to God.

"Having the Lord in Kyle's heart is the best news; this is what I pray for of all our kids and family," Randy Miller said in his statement. "I miss Kyle very much, and I don't understand why God took Kyle home at such a young age."

Both statements thanked their families, friends and communities for the support they have received since Miller's death.

Gutknecht expressed the Guard's sympathy for Miller's family and said the primary focus of the military now is to help the family cope with his loss.

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Miller enlisted a year ago in the 682nd Engineer Battalion in Willmar, Gutknecht said. After attending drills with the 682nd for several months, he was assigned to the 1st of the 34th Brigade Combat Team. He shipped out for Iraq in March with 2,600 other Minnesota Guard troops.

The brigade is responsible for convoy operations, base security and patrols along convoy routes.

Gutknecht said the details of Miller's death are still being investigated.

One other soldier, also from Minnesota, was injured in the explosion and is being treated for shrapnel injuries to the upper body. The name of the injured soldier will not be made public unless the family chooses to do so, Gutknecht said.

"I think all of us know that Iraq is a very dangerous place," he said. The roadside bombs, which the military calls improvised explosive devices, make the roads the brigade travels on particularly dangerous, he said.

Miller was trained in communications but was also trained as an infantry soldier, as are all the soldiers in the brigade, Gutknecht said.

Miller is the second soldier from the unit to be killed. Sgt. Brent Koch of Morton died June 16 after a roadside bomb exploded.

Funeral services for Miller are still pending. It could be several more days before his body is returned to the United States and to Willmar.

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The location of the funeral isn't decided yet, either.

The Rev. Steven Knudson of Vinje Lutheran Church will officiate at the funeral, but it probably won't be at the church where Miller was a member.

Though Vinje can seat about 1,000 people, he's been told to plan for 2,000, Knudson said.

The public aspects of a soldier's death can be difficult for the family members who are dealing with such a shocking personal loss, Knudson said.

"They recognize the community wants to honor Kyle and his work and sacrifice," he said.

"I've been impressed with the military and the decency and respect they give to the family," Knudson added. "They offer whatever support is needed at a public time."

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