Joining the military came naturally to Juan C. Venegas of Simi Valley. He loved a challenge, especially anything involving endurance or perfecting a skill.
"I remember how he would shoot pellet guns when we were small," said his sister Erica Venegas, 19. "He would get so into it, trying to be perfect. He'd spend hours adjusting the sight to get the perfect shot."
The 21-year-old Marine Corps lance corporal was killed April 7 in a vehicle accident in Iraq's Al Anbar province, the Department of Defense said. Military officials told his family that Venegas was struck by a Humvee while on patrol. The accident is under investigation.
Venegas' loved ones remember him as someone with both a serious and a fun-loving side.
"He was very shy and quiet when you first met him. But when he was around people he knew, he was a jokester," said his fiancee, Mariam Khoury, 23, a special education assistant with the Los Angeles Unified School District.
During his teen and young-adult years, Venegas thrived on physical activity. He lifted weights daily, often ran in the Simi Valley foothills and regularly joined friends for Wednesday night basketball games.
"He was like a machine. He would just keep going," his sister said. "He carried a backpack filled with potatoes when he went running, for extra weight. He would go nonstop at the basketball games. Everyone else would get tired, but he wouldn't."
Venegas, who attended Simi Valley High School and graduated from continuation school before enlisting in 2003, had dreamed for years of being in the service.
"He wanted to hurry up and graduate so he could join the Marines," said Erica Venegas, a counselor for a Simi Valley after-school program.
The Marine wanted to help his parents buy a house with his military pay.
He met Khoury, a North Hills resident, through friends shortly after boot camp. The two had not set a wedding date, but he talked often of settling down and starting a family. "He looked ahead," she said, adding that he wanted to become a firefighter.
Venegas saw the Marine Corps as a place where he could excel in activities that would stretch his limits. "He took pride in achieving his goals in the military," Khoury said. "Physical exercises, book work, marksmanship -- he'd always strive for the best scores in everything."
The Marine was on his second tour of duty in Iraq. He wrote to Khoury almost daily and called her at least once a week.
She said Venegas was constantly worrying about his loved ones. "He'd ask: 'Are the bills getting paid? Did you eat? Did you sleep?' "
Venegas was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, 1st Marine Expeditionary Force at Twentynine Palms, Calif. While stationed in Iraq, he was attached to Regimental Combat Team 8, 2nd Marine Division, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force.
In addition to his sister Erica, he is survived by his parents, Juan and Maria Venegas, and three other sisters: Katie, 14, Emely, 10, and Brianna, 7, all of Simi Valley.
He was buried at Assumption Cemetery in Simi Valley.