Sgt. 1st Class Nathan Ross Chapman died after being gunned down by small-arms fire during an ambush in Afghanistan Jan. 4, becoming the first U.S. soldier killed by hostile fire in the war on terror.

The 31-year-old Green Beret communications specialist was a Desert Storm veteran and skilled marksman, but his family remembers him most for his loving manner and pride in his chosen career.

"As Sergeant Chapman's parents, we are so proud that he had grown into such a wonderful son who was a proud father, loving husband, and devoted to serving his country," his parents said in a statement from their home in Georgetown, Texas, about 25 miles north of Austin.

Chapman's parents identified the slain soldier's wife as Renae and his children as Amanda, 2, and Brandon, 1.

President Bush voiced sorrow for the Chapman family and said, "I can assure the parents and loved ones of Nathan Chapman that he lost his life for a cause that is just and important.

"And that cause is the security of the American people ... of freedom and a civilized world," Bush said in Ontario, Calif., in a 90-day update of the war against terrorists.

The Chapmans said they last spoke with their son on Christmas Day by satellite phone and saw him in August at the wedding of his brother, Keith. 

Even though they were able to speak with him via phone, his family members never knew for sure that he was in Afghanistan until the Army notified them that he had been killed there in combat.

"He was never able to tell us where he was going, and we had to guess where that might be," Wilbur Chapman, told the Austin American-Statesman. "His normal area of interest with the unit he was with was the Far East," Chapman said, "and I thought there might be a chance he might be going somewhere other than Afghanistan, like Somalia or the Philippines."

"He loved parenting his children and cherished the time he had with them and his wife," the Chapmans said in a statement. "He loved to jet ski, snowboard and woodworking. He was a skilled marksman."

Sgt. Chapman was part of a U.S. team operating near the Afghan town of Khost, a few miles from the Pakistan border, when he was hit, military officials said.

Officials said Chapman and a CIA officer had met with local tribal leaders in Afghanistan's Paktia province, near where U.S. warplanes had struck several Al Qaeda and Taliban targets in the past few weeks. The Americans were ambushed after the meeting and exchanged fire with their assailants, officials said.

Chapman was born on April 23, 1970, at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. He wrestled at Centerville High School in Centerville, Ohio, before graduating in 1988 and joining the Army. For his military records, he identified his hometown as San Antonio — where he had never lived — because of family ties there.

He served most of his military career at Fort Lewis, Wash. Since the war in Afghanistan began, he had been assigned to the 5th Special Forces Group at Fort Campbell, Ky., said Maj. Gary Kolb, a spokesman for Army Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg, N.C.

His parents said he parachuted into Panama during the U.S. invasion of that country and also served in Desert Storm and Haiti. He attended Special Forces school at Fort Bragg, they said.

"The Army took to him and he took to the Army. It was a good match up until yesterday," his father Wilbur Chapman said. "I think he was a better person for going into the Army and the Army was a better place."

Kolb said one of Chapman's jobs "was to make sure that communication links are active and operational." And as a Green Beret, Kolb said, "he is adept at anything else."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.