Sergio Perez was a quiet, reserved young man who liked computer classes, his former Lake Central High School principal said.
"That led to why he was such a good soldier," said Sean Begley, who'd was principal when Perez graduated in 2010.
Perez, 21, of Schererville, was killed Monday while serving with the Indiana National Guard 713th Engineer Co. in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan.
"It's a tragic day for his family and for Lake Central and for all of Indiana," Begley said.
Perez, a specialist in the National Guard, died along with Spc. Nicholas A. Taylor, of Berne, Ind., during an attack that included rocket-propelled grenades and small arms, military officials said. The soldiers had been clearing a route when they were attacked.
Perez is the son of Sergio E. Perez Sr. and Veronica Orozco, of Schererville, officials said.
The deaths of Perez and Taylor were the fifth and sixth this year for the Valparaiso-headquartered 713th Engineer Co.
Four soldiers, including three from the region, were killed Jan. 6 when their vehicle struck a roadside bomb in Afghanistan. A Hammond soldier was injured in the blast.
"My heart is heavy today as I consider the soldiers of the 713th Engineer Co. who, for the second time in their combat tour, have experienced the multiple loss of their team mates," Indiana National Guard Adjutant General Maj. Gen. Martin Umbarger said.
Perez joined the National Guard in 2010, not long after high school graduation. His company mobilized at the end of September 2011 and is scheduled to return toward the end of September this year, Sgt. Lesley Newport said.
Friend and former co-worker Amber Counts, of Highland, said Perez made a strong impression on those who knew him.
"Sergio was very, very friendly," she said. "He always asked how people were doing and was concerned about them."
Counts worked with Perez at the former Kelsey's Restaurant in Schererville, while Perez was in high school.
Perez became the second Lake Central High School graduate to die in combat this year.
Army Staff Sgt. David Nowaczyk, 32, of Dyer, was killed April 15 in Kunar Province, Afghanistan, when his vehicle was attacked with an enemy improvised explosive device. Nowaczyk was a 1997 Lake Central graduate.
Begley, himself a National Guardsman, said the soldiers' deaths "show what a dangerous mission they have and what brave young men they are.
"We're so lucky to have young men like Sergio who go out and fight for our freedom," Begley said.
Esteban Gutierrez said Perez and two other buddies were inseparable in high school.
“We were best friends. We were brothers,” said Gutierrez, who is part of the same National Guard battalion, although a different unit.
“We both enlisted before graduation,” he said.
The friends were separated when Perez was deployed in November.
Serving their country in the military means “watching the men next to you. You watch so you guys will get out alive. It’s not all about politics,” Gutierrez said.
When he and his fellow soldiers heard the news of Perez’s death, “We were torn apart. He was so young,” Gutierrez said.
“He touched everyone. It was his personality, his smile, his laugh. He was an all-around great guy,” Gutierrez said. “I’m glad to have had him in my life. I’ll never forget him.”
The 713th Engineer Co. is assigned to clear military supply and combat routes. Gov. Mitch Daniels said Tuesday, "No Guard unit in my memory has been assigned to a more dangerous mission than the 713th.
"Here again we see the incredible risks these citizen soldiers volunteer to run for the rest of us," Daniels said.
Times Correspondent Lu Ann Franklin contributed to this report.