Saturday, April 21, 2007

Army Pfc. Christopher M. North

Remember Our Heroes

Army Pfc. Christopher M. North, 21, of Sarasota, Fla.

Pfc. North was assigned to the 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, Fort Riley, Kan.; died April 21 in Baghdad of wounds sustained when his unit came in contact with enemy forces using an improvised explosive device and small-arms fire during combat operations.

'Everyone's basically devastated' by death of local soldier in Iraq

Chris North joined the Army in 2005, hoping he would never be sent to Iraq.

However, Baghdad was where the 21-year-old Lakewood Ranch High graduate was when he was killed in action Saturday.

Described by family as a sort of joyful daredevil, North at times lacked focus in his life, but never friends. Searching for discipline, he joined the Army nearly two years ago on a deferred entry program thinking that the war was winding down, family and his best friend say. Instead, he was sent to Baghdad in February as part of a troop surge aimed at improving security in the violent city.

"I'm one of the 20,000," his mother, Cheryl Riedler, remembers him saying when he informed her of his deployment.

North, a member of the 1st Infantry Division, became the ninth member of the military from Sarasota, Manatee and Charlotte counties to die in the war, which has claimed the lives of more than 3,300 American soldiers.

In a release Monday, the U.S. Department of Defense said North died of wounds suffered "when his unit came in contact with enemy forces using an improvised explosive device and small arms fire."

The homemade bomb apparently disabled North's Humvee. Army officials haven't provided details yet about whether North died from the explosion or from the ambush, his mother said.

Friends share memories

Family and friends found out about North's death Saturday night. They describe him as headstrong, fun, a very fast driver of cars and motorcycles. North could almost instantly connect with people, friends say, and word of his death spread fast through cell calls and text messages.

"Everyone's basically devastated; he was a popular kid at Lakewood Ranch," said Ryan McPherson, North's best friend.

About 20 friends quickly gathered at a Sarasota bar to hoist a beer and tell their favorite stories about North.

There were a lot of them.

McPherson's favorite was of how it was impossible to talk his headstrong friend out of something once he had made up his mind.

After making friends with a vacationing girl from Indiana on Siesta Key beach, North decided to hop on his motorcycle and visit her even though it was still winter.

"I said, 'Dude, that's not such a good idea,' " McPherson said.

Halfway there, a frozen North called him complaining of the weather.

But there was more to the story, said Mark North, Chris' father. After a cold motorcycle ride, Chris North found out the beach romance had faded as had the girl's interest.

"So, what did he do? He met a lot of other people up there and had a great time."

McPherson didn't have any more success at talking North out of joining the Army.

"Once he decided he was going to do something you had no chance of talking him out of it."

A winning personality

The 6-foot 2-inch, 200 pound, blond, blue-eyed North joined the Army looking for focus and discipline in his life, hoping to eventually parlay the experience into a law enforcement career.

"He really kind of had his goal set high, the FBI," said his father, Mark North, whose Lakewood Ranch home was adorned with flowers and flags Monday. In fact, neighbors had planted small American flags along the sidewalks for several hundred feet on either side of North's house.

Whether he made it in law enforcement or not, Chris' personality would have made him successful. "He would have been a great sales guy," said his father, who sells concrete block. "He would have gained everyone's trust and made a million."

Chris' parents divorced when he was two and he always acted as a bridge between his two families, which produced four later children, said his father. The father remarried and has two children, Dalton, 14, and Blair, 10. His mother also remarried and her children are Nevin, 14, and Delaney, 12.

A memorial service is not settled, but will probably be held either Saturday or Sunday at Concordia Lutheran Church in Sarasota, Riedler said. Burial will be at Sarasota Gardens.

When Chris signed up for the Army, he kept it from his father for a couple of weeks. When he finally told him, Mark North was chilled by the news. "Premonitions," he said, shaking his head, unable to describe them. "When I found out he joined, I cried harder than I am now."

Army Pfc. Christopher M. North was killed in action on 4/21/07.

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