A 19-year-old Army soldier from Allen County's Shawnee Township died Wednesday in Baghdad of wounds from an improvised explosive device, the U.S. Department of Defense announced yesterday.
Pfc. Christian M. Neff was assigned to the 3rd Infantry Division's 1st Battalion, 64th Armor Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, headquartered at Fort Stewart, Ga.
Private Neff joined the Army months before graduating from Apollo Career Center and Shawnee High School in 2006, said Darin Grimm, who teaches Apollo's computer applications programming, which Private Neff studied.
"That's what he wanted to do. He wanted to serve his country," Mr. Grimm said of Private Neff's decision to join the Army, along with one of his close friends.
When Private Neff came home on leaves, he returned to the school - in full uniform - to visit his teacher, often addressing Mr. Grimm's students about preparing for the future.
"His thing was, 'You need to apply yourself at everything you do - whether you think it's relevant or not,' " Mr. Grimm said.
As a student at Apollo, where Private Neff was known as Chris, he represented the computer applications class on student council, held an office in the local Business Professionals of America chapter, and was on the honor roll.
"He was all about the grades," his friend Allison Pollock said, remembering how much emphasis he put on academics as well as organizing food drives, fund-raisers for local charities, and recycling days at the career center through its student organizations.
His death struck his teacher as a tragedy.
"He didn't have an opportunity to live his life," Mr. Grimm said. "But I know he really loved what he was doing."
Private Neff's parents, Bill and Nancy Neff, and his sister, Shannon, could not be reached yesterday for comment.
Apollo Superintendent Chris Pfister said that if Private Neff's family is agreeable, school leaders want to plant a tree in his memory in Apollo's veterans memorial garden.
Alan Pollock, a teacher at Apollo and the father of Allison Pollock, said a stone monument in the garden also is being considered for Private Neff, who is the career center's first graduate to die in Iraq.
"We just found out, but everyone's thinking right away what we might do," Mr. Pfister said.
Contact Jane Schmucker at: email@example.com or 419-724-6050.