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Parents recall soldier's thoughtful nature

WILLMAR -- Kyle Miller was a softie, a thoughtful kid who liked to hug people and who sent his dad a tender Father's Day card telling him not to work too hard.

WILLMAR -- Kyle Miller was a softie, a thoughtful kid who liked to hug people and who sent his dad a tender Father's Day card telling him not to work too hard.

And he was a typical teenager. He liked to work with his hands and particularly loved to tinker with his beloved silver Dodge truck. He picked on his little sister. He got in trouble during his military basic training, because he smiled when he wasn't supposed to.

Miller, 19, a specialist in the Minnesota National Guard, died Thursday night near Balad, Iraq, when a roadside bomb exploded near his vehicle. The other person in the vehicle was injured.

Monday afternoon, at their home in southwest Willmar, Randy and Candy Miller, Kyle's father and stepmother, recalled a young man who was "concerned for other people, more than himself." It was a conversation punctuated by occasional tears and some soft laughter over happy memories.

Kyle loved his whole extended, blended family, including his mom, dad and stepmom and all of his siblings, his dad said. He called home nearly every week and for every big occasion, and he always told people that he was fine.

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In his last e-mail home, he wrote, "I'm still safe, and I'm going to remain safe. I'll be home before you know it."

When he was asked if he regretted joining the military or being in Iraq, he said he didn't.

"He didn't want to worry us," Candy said.

When Randy and Candy built a new house last year, Kyle helped with the landscaping and other finishing work when he was home from his National Guard training.

Kyle was anxious to see the basement that his dad spent the winter finishing, "and I'm disappointed I can't show it to him," Randy said.

Overflowing memories

The kitchen counter in the new house is covered with photos. There's Kyle in his white confirmation robe shooting pool with a friend.

In one, he's smiling in his military uniform, the type of smile that could lead to pushups, Randy said.

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In some he's a little boy, grinning and standing beside his dad. In others, he's a young man working on a vehicle.

Kyle wanted to study to be an electrician and to do auto body work. His dad tried to steer him toward electrical work, "but he liked to work on vehicles."

He liked to play pranks when he was younger. He would sneak up behind her in the kitchen, Candy said, and she threatened, "I'm going to put a bell on you."

He sent gifts from Iraq, including his and hers wristwatches from Iraq, and a John Deere clock for his dad for his birthday in May. He worried his dad was working too hard trying to finish the basement.

"Kids don't normally do those kinds of things," Randy said. "We just need to make it known, he was so thoughtful."

Uniforms at the door

The ordeal for the Millers began at 6 a.m. Friday, when two men in military uniforms approached the front door.

Candy is usually the only one awake in the house at that hour. Kyle had warned her before he left that if she saw two people in uniform at the door, "you already know I'm not coming home."

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For a second, her mind couldn't take in what she was seeing, she said, and then, she started screaming for Randy.

Before he left, Kyle talked about the possibility that he wouldn't come home.

"He tried to tell me, he tried to prepare me a little bit, but I didn't want to listen," Randy said quietly. Kyle spoke to his dad's brother instead. He said he wanted the highest honors from the military at his funeral.

"We want him honored, big time," Randy said. "That's what he would have wanted."

Candy added, "We just pray he's in heaven, and we've had a lot of reassurance that he is."

The Millers were notified that Kyle's body arrived at Dover Air Force Base Monday evening. The military mortuary there will send the body to his home state later in the week, Randy said.

The military has been supportive of the family since Kyle died, offering "whatever we want," he said. That included an offer to mow the lawn.

All for the military

Kyle joined the National Guard when he was a junior in high school. "I had to sign for him," Randy said. "I was unsure about it; I wanted to make sure it was the right thing for Kyle."

Randy said he thought the war would be over by the time Kyle was out of school, and "he wanted to do it," so he signed the papers.

"I believe Kyle wanted to be there," he said.

"He was all for the military," Candy said. "He was so proud of being in there."

They said they could see when they saw him off for training and for Iraq that Kyle was well-liked.

"He had so many buddies," Randy said. "We are anxious to be able to talk to them."

Community outpouring

The Miller family has been comforted by the love and support they have received from the community.

Their employers, coworkers and neighbors have offered to help in any way they can.

Neighbors plan to plant a bush and put up a flagpole in front of the house. One neighbor said he had two rooms ready if out-of-town family needs a place to stay.

Praise FM in Willmar plans a full day of broadcasting in Kyle's honor.

The Minnesota Twins had a moment of silence at a game last weekend and put Kyle's photo on the scoreboards.

"He deserves recognition," Randy said. "I hope Kyle can look at us doing this, and see how he's getting honored."

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