INDIANAPOLIS – An Indiana soldier who was just 32 days into his first deployment was one of two American service members killed in a suicide bombing attack in Afghanistan, military officials confirmed Thursday.
Mark Hunter said members of the Indiana National Guard informed him Wednesday night that his son, 23-year-old U.S. Army Sgt. Jonathon Michael Hunter, died in the attack on a NATO convoy near the southern Afghan city of Kandahar.
The Department of Defense confirmed the deaths Thursday night. Officials also identified the second soldier killed as Army Spc. Christopher Michael Harris, 25, of Jackson Springs, North Carolina.
The U.S. military in Afghanistan earlier said that four other American troops were wounded in Wednesday's attack.
Jonathon Hunter, who grew up about 40 miles south of Indianapolis in the central Indiana community of Columbus, left July 1 on his first deployment and was providing security for the convoy that was attacked, his father said. He joined the Army in 2014 and was a member of the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division in Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
Mark Hunter said his son was excited about his first deployment, but that he, as an Army veteran, was apprehensive.
"He had been there 32 days. I'm former military, me and his uncle both, so we know the dangers," Hunter told The Associated Press by phone from his home in Columbus.
He said his son, who got married last October and has an older brother and two stepsisters, was cheerful, loving and religious.
"If you were down, he would cheer you up and he was God-loving. He was raised in the church," he said.
The family later issued a statement saying in part, "Jonathon loved his unit and serving his country and was excited about the opportunity to go to Afghanistan to do his part in fighting injustice."
Hunter said he will travel Friday to Dover Air Force Base to retrieve his son's remains and that funeral plans were being determined by him, Jonathon's mother and Jonathon's wife, Whitney.
After graduating from Columbus East High School in 2011, he said his son spent a short time in Nashville, Tennessee, pursuing his dream of becoming a music producer before he enrolled at Indiana State University in Terre Haute, where he studied criminology and business.
But Hunter said his son eventually left ISU and joined the Army in April 2014 because he didn't want to burden him with paying for his college.
"After he got into school — and of course we were struggling with bills, to pay for it — he decided to join. He said, 'Dad, I know that going into the military I can get a free education,'" Mark Hunter said.
He said his family has a history of military service that dates back to the Civil War.
"I'm just proud of him. He was a great soldier. He made (sergeant) in a little over three years, which is pretty rare, they tell me," Hunter said.
Before Jonathon Hunter's death, 207 Indiana service members had died since 2002 in the war in Afghanistan and Iraq, or supporting those operations, said Tim Dyke, director of training and services Indiana Department of Veterans Affairs. He said that's based on a tally produced by the agency's former director.