PENDER COUNTY, NC (WECT) – The North Carolina National Guard has released additional information about the death of a local man, who was killed in action in Afghanistan this week.
Thomas Jefferson Butler IV, who many knew as TJ, had only been in Afghanistan for a little more than two weeks when he was killed by a suicide bomber.
The Department of Defense released a statement saying three US service members were killed early Monday in eastern Afghanistan when a motorcycle packed with explosives rammed into a joint Afghan-American patrol.
According to a National Guard release, an insurgent on foot approached the Soldiers' patrol and detonated a suicide vest. Also killed in the explosion along with Sgt. Butler were Sgt. Jeremy F. Hardison of Maysville, and Sgt. Donna R. Johnson of Raeford. Butler was 25 years old.
Military officials said the walking patrol unit was made up of military police and were stationed there a part of Operation Enduring Freedom.
"We are still grieving for these Soldiers, their families and their unit members still carrying on with their mission," said Maj. Gen. Gregory A. Lusk, adjutant general of North Carolina and commander of the nearly 12,000 men and women of the North Carolina National Guard in an emailed release. "They were the embodiment of citizen Soldiers who put everything on hold to go in harm's way for all of us. They will be remembered and sorely missed."
Butler went through the Pender County School system and graduated from Topsail High before going into the military. He graduated from Topsail High in 2006.
Butler went into the military in June of 2007. He was awarded with the National Defense Service Medal and the Army Service Ribbon. His unit left North Carolina for Fort Bliss, Texas in June and left for Afghanistan in early August.
Out of his military uniform, teachers and coaches at Topsail High said Butler stood out from the crowd.
"It was like a gut punch this morning about 10 am when I found out about it, but all I have are fond memories of TJ, just sunshine everyday," said Topsail High teacher and coach Bill White.
"I mean you have a hard time finding anybody to say anything negative about TJ. He's just a great kid, sparkle in his eye, smile on his face all the time."
Butler was a three-sport athlete and a member of the National Honor Society. White's son played football with Butler. He said his son took the news hard on Tuesday.
Family members told WECT.com he wanted to be a police officer since he was a little kid. They also said he was dedicated to his school work and played almost every sport while in school.
Butler leaves behind his wife, Holly, and their 6-month-old baby, who was named after Butler.
Family members said this November would have marked his fourth wedding anniversary.
Butler's body, along with the other two members of the military, was transported back to the United States Tuesday night.
Casualty assistance officers are currently staying with the Butler family during this tough time.
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