Friends and comrades of Staff Sgt. Christopher Wilbur gathered Thursday in a Fort Carson chapel to remember how the 2nd Brigade Combat Team mortarman lived.
"He was the type of soldier young soldiers wanted to emulate," said friend Sgt. 1st Class Tre Marris. "He was a great guy."
The Army is still investigating how Wilbur died last month in Afghanistan.
The 36-year-old grew up across the river from St. Louis in Granite City, Ill. He was in the Army for 11 years and was on his fourth wartime deployment on Aug. 12 when he died of what the Army has only described as "a non-combat-related injury" suffered in Kandahar.
The husband of Lindsey and father of Alexander and Susannah, Wilbur was known in Army circles as a friendly leader who still instilled iron discipline in his troops.
"He had a laid-back demeanor, but still had a command presence you couldn't ignore," said Sgt. Aaron Lewis who served under Wilbur in 2nd Brigade.
Wilbur developed those high standards over a career that included three years of breaking in the Army's newest soldiers as a drill sergeant at Fort Benning, Ga.
Wilbur came to Fort Carson last fall and took the top enlisted position in a mortar platoon. The unit left for nine months in Afghanistan in February, where Wilbur and other soldiers worked to train and bolster America's Afghan allies.
"He was able to draw out the best from each individual," said Wilbur's 2nd Brigade comrade Capt. Jonathan Roldan.
Wilbur was the first soldier from his unit to die overseas on this deployment and the first Fort Carson soldier to die in a war zone since 2014, post officials said.
While deaths have been few lately, the war remains dangerous. Soldiers put their lives on the line every day, eulogists said.
"He volunteered to do what many are not fit to do and what others choose not to do," Roldan said.
Wilbur's memorial service was quick. Two eulogists, a chaplain, a bagpiper, a bugler and a rifle salute were packed into half an hour. In that time, Wilbur's sarcastic humor was recalled along with his sky-high standards for troops.
By the time the bugler played taps, tough sergeants in dress uniforms were wiping their eyes.
While Wilbur was remembered as a top soldier, he clearly had other goals. Friends said all the tough sergeant wanted to talk about were the three people he left behind in Colorado Springs.
"He would do anything for those he loved," Lewis said before sobs erupted from the front pew where Wilbur's family sat.
And while the smell of gunpowder hung in the air from the last rifle salute, Marris said Wilbur would have probably traded his chest full of medals to comfort that grieving family in the front row.
"Family was always at the top of his list," Marris said. "It was always family with him."
Contact Tom Roeder: 636-0240