Kevin J. Hilaman joined the Army in 2003 as an infantryman. His first two…
Army Spc. Kevin J. Hilaman was a kind and charismatic man for whom family and country meant everything, those close to him said.
Hilaman joined the Army in 2003 as an infantryman, the Pentagon said. His first two deployments were to Iraq, after which he returned for a short while to civilian life. But when he couldn't find a nonmilitary job that he was equally passionate about, he reenlisted, relatives said.
In April, he deployed to Afghanistan. And that's where he was killed June 26 in eastern Kunar province, on the Pakistani border. It was the day before his 29th birthday.
Hilaman died of injuries suffered when insurgents attacked his unit with small-arms fire, military officials said. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii.
"He would have done anything to take care of his family," Hilaman's wife, Sara Bartels, told KITV-TV, the ABC affiliate in Honolulu. "And he did, and that's why ultimately he ended up in Afghanistan."
Hilaman was a family man who loved to spend time with his 10-year-old stepson Ben, his wife told the news station.
"He was a kind of homebody," she said. "He loved animals a lot and was very compassionate. He was always helping people a lot, helping family and friends with whatever they needed. He was a very funny person, always making jokes, making people laugh."
In an interview with The Times, Bartels' grandmother Shara Mowrey praised Hilaman as a great dad who treated his stepson as his own.
Mowrey said the soldier, a graduate of Mesa Verde High School in Citrus Heights near Sacramento, later chose to reenlist "so he could have a more secure future."
Hilaman's father, Bernie, told KXTV-TV, the ABC affiliate in Sacramento, that his son "loved his country" and "loved defending our freedoms."
He said his son had called him four times before deploying to Afghanistan — each time saying he didn't think he would make it back.
"He was very afraid," Bernie Hilaman was quoted as saying in an article posted on the station's website. He tried to comfort his son, saying, "of course you're coming home," the article said.
Friends, family members and fellow soldiers shared touching tributes to Hilaman on the California War Dead database on The Times' website, which records memories and details about the lives of hundreds of California service members who have died during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"Kevin was one guy that will truly be missed," wrote Spc. Jacob Pryor. "They say it always happens to the best, and in this case it really did. A great friend, and awesome soldier, he will definitely be missed."
Another who commented, Aaron Clark, echoed Pryor's sentiments, calling Hilaman "a great friend, my brother-in-arms, and an excellent infantryman."
"It was always cool working with him downrange, cause no matter what, he always had something funny to say," Clark wrote. "I'ma miss you brah, you'll always be remembered."
"Kevin touched more people than he knew," said Mowrey, who lives in Kingman, Ariz.
Hilaman was buried July 9 at Sierra Hills Memorial Park in Sacramento.
He is survived by his wife, stepson and parents.