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Younger sister shares memories of her brother

WILLMAR -- Kim Miller had a half-smile on her face as she paged through the photo album she and her family had put together on Saturday. The album showed the progression of her big brother Kyle from white-blonde toddler to sandy-haired teen. Kyle...

WILLMAR -- Kim Miller had a half-smile on her face as she paged through the photo album she and her family had put together on Saturday.

The album showed the progression of her big brother Kyle from white-blonde toddler to sandy-haired teen.

Kyle Miller, 19, a member of the Minnesota National Guard, died Thursday when a roadside bomb exploded near his vehicle near Balad, Iraq. Kim and family friend Sara Fitterer were at the Willmar National Guard Armory Saturday afternoon for a National Guard news conference.

While they waited, Kim, 16, seemed eager to show the photos of her brother. "We all worked on it together at home," she said.

"Old times" is what she thought about as she looked at the book, Kim said softly.

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Many of the photos showed brother and sister together -- Kyle holding Kim as a baby, the two of them posing for holiday photos or laughing together. Kyle was alone in other photos. In one he had stickers on his face. He was sleeping with a teddy bear in one and posing in a Halloween costume in another.

Their relationship was close.

That was clear in the pictures of two little kids dancing around in their underwear and laughing.

It was clear, too, in the sad, tired face of his little sister.

"He was a great guy," Kim said of her brother. "He was planning on coming back. ... He had a lot of plans."

But there was another side to their relationship when they were younger, Kim admitted.

"He used to always beat on me, and I'd always get even," she said.

She found a picture of Kyle holding up a heavily bandaged finger and smiled again. "I slammed his finger in the door after he was chasing me around the house," she said.

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Her mom snapped the picture after they left the emergency room. And "yeah," she got in trouble for it, Kim said.

The brother and sister had kept in touch via e-mail while he was in Iraq, and some gentle teasing continued from there. About a week ago, he left a note on her MySpace site, joking that her Web site, with its purple color scheme, was "so chicky."

Community in shock

People often think of the war as being way over on the other side of the world, "but this time it came and rested on our doorway," said Dean E. Johnson, a brigadier general chaplain in the Guard and the state Senate majority leader.

Miller's youth also hits hard, he said. He is the second-youngest of the 40 people with Minnesota ties who have died in Iraq.

"It takes a piece of your heart and makes you stop and think," Johnson said. "People identify very strongly with the young people who are serving over there."

Officers and chaplains will be looking out for Miller's colleagues in Iraq. "It's just devastating to lose one of your own in the unit," he said.

"It's essential to keep morale up," because soldiers who are having trouble concentrating could let their guard down and put themselves in danger. "That's where chaplains come in," Johnson said.

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Chaplains with the unit will be gathering soldiers for memorials and will be watching closely for signs of trouble among the soldiers.

The officers of the Willmar Veterans of Foreign Wars were at the post for meetings on Friday when word came in about Miller. Someone had called the post looking for Miller's half brother.

"We went out and lowered the flags right away," said manager Jerry Spencer.

Patrons in the lounge talked about it Friday afternoon and evening, Spencer said.

"It's too bad to hear something like that," he said. "It puts a lot of people in shock, I think."

Miller had joined the VFW before he shipped out, Spencer said.

"A lot of people don't realize how many people from around here are over there," he added.

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