RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And we turn now to Iraq, where the drawdown of American troops continues. About 50,000 troops remain in the country in non-combat roles. Still, the mission is dangerous, and three weeks ago, five soldiers were killed when militants fired rockets into their base. Christopher Fishbeck was 24 years old when he died.
NPR's Tamara Keith has this remembrance.
TAMARA KEITH: Last month, Christopher Fishbeck was home in Orange County, California on a brief leave, and he told his mom something no mother wants to hear.
Ms. TONI KAY: He told me that he felt that there was a 90 percent chance that he wouldn't make it out alive.
KEITH: Toni Kay now knows her son's fears were warranted.
Ms. KAY: Now, whether that was based on a premonition that he had or whether it was based on his knowledge of what lied ahead, I don't know. But he just felt a very, very strong sense that he wasn't going to make it out.
KEITH: In high school, Fishbeck played football and wrestled. He was known as a bit of a clown and sometimes got into trouble.
Stephanie Kidder is his wife. They were friends in high school.
Ms. STEPHANIE KIDDER: He didn't really follow the rules all the time. But even the teachers that would get him in trouble, they still loved him.
KEITH: After high school, Fishbeck and Kidder fell out of touch. He had big dreams. He was obsessed with physics and outer space. On his MySpace page, he talked about wanting to become an astronaut. But he also said he dreamed of becoming an American hero, to change the world. And his mom, Toni Kay, says he decided joining the Army was the way to do it.
Ms. KAY: He definitely wanted to serve his country, and he had no hesitation about joining whatsoever.
KEITH: Last fall, he made his first deployment, to Iraq, with the 1st Infantry Division. Before he left, he got a tattoo on his chest that said St. Michael Defend Me. Not long after arriving in Iraq, he reached out to Stephanie Kidder, the girl he had gone out with a few times in high school.
Ms. KIDDER: And I was like, no way. And he kept on saying, like, Stephanie, you're so beautiful. I'm like, stop messing with me. You haven't seen me in, like, forever. Why are you saying all these things? Like you are. You're such a beautiful woman. I'm like, Chris, shut up.
KEITH: They kept talking over Skype. Then in March, he was able to take some leave. They met up in Germany, where she was teaching English. A week later, they recorded this video while on their way to get married.
(Soundbite of video)
Mr. CHRISTOPHER FISHBECK: I was driving down this little, tiny snowy street in Denmark.
Ms. KIDDER: And he's here so he can do what?
Mr. FISHBECK: Get married.
Ms. KIDDER: To?
Mr. FISHBECK: Stephanie Kidder.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. KIDDER: That's right.
KEITH: Kidder says it was a brief wedding ceremony. They were both wearing jeans.
Ms. KIDDER: He's so intense. He's very much - if he knows what he wants, he just goes for it. So, for us, it was just logical - because we planned on getting married in the future, anyways - to just not waste anymore time and just do it now.
KEITH: Three months later, she's a widow. Last month, when Fishbeck was in California on leave, Kidder begged him not to go back to Iraq, begged him to find a way out of his military contract.
Ms. KIDDER: He had told me that, you know, this is his commitment. And if he were to finish it, then he would feel that he could accomplish anything, especially as hard as this, and nothing would be as hard as that. And he told me he was going to go back, you know, finish what he started.
KEITH: In the last two months, Fishbeck's family says he told them his base was getting hit with more and more rocket fire. The Army confirms Camp Loyalty, where he was stationed, has been attacked nearly 10 times since March.
Kay says her son felt like U.S. troops couldn't really defend themselves.
Ms. KAY: When the rocket attacks came in, they basically had to run for cover. And this is the part that made it so very difficult.
KEITH: Fishbeck's unit was in Baghdad to work with the Iraqi federal police. Major General Jeff Buchanan is spokesman for United States Forces, Iraq. He says in recent weeks militant attacks on U.S. forces have intensified, though he takes exception to the idea that the troops couldn't defend themselves.
Major General JEFF BUCHANAN (Spokesman, United States Forces, Iraq): These groups have been attacking us and will continue to do so. And we'll continue to defend ourselves, and bring them to justice along the way.
KEITH: That's not much solace to Fishbeck's family. They're missing a son and husband. They don't want him to be forgotten.
Ms. KIDDER: He was a lot of things at one time. He just - there were so many aspects to him, really.
KEITH: Christopher Fishbeck's memorial service is this morning in California.
Tamara Keith, NPR News, Washington.
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