State soldier is 2,000th death in Afghan War

PENFIELD (AP) -- First Sgt. Daniel Metcalfe was a prankster who matured when he joined the Army. He smiled easily, loved to make others laugh and, his family said, was distinguished by devotion: to his wife, his four kids, his country. Metcalfe was killed in combat Saturday, becoming the 2,000th American soldier to die in the 11-year-old war in Afghanistan.

"He was a kind of natural-born leader, charismatic," his father, Tom Metcalfe, told the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle this week. "Everybody just liked him, and he could lead anybody anywhere, practically -- not always in a good way when he was younger."

A memorial service for the 29-year-old Metcalfe was Thursday near the Rochester suburb of Penfield, where he had attended high school. Metcalfe's wife, Vesna, flew in from Italy, where the couple lived with their children Alexis, 6, Edward, 3, and Ethan, 11 months, according to Metcalfe's aunt, Dottie Nerges. He also had a 12-year-old daughter from a previous relationship, she said.

"When he went into the Army, he really found his calling, and it gave him so much responsibility. He just flourished in the service," Nerges said after the memorial service.

Metcalfe was killed by small arms fire Saturday on foot patrol when insurgents attacked a checkpoint set up by U.S. forces, according to provincial government officials.

The Americans thought they were under mortar attack from their allies at a nearby Afghan army checkpoint and fired on it. The Afghan soldiers returned fire. An Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman told The Associated Press that the shooting broke out as a result of a "misunderstanding."

The toll in Afghanistan has climbed steadily in recent months with attacks by Afghan army and police -- supposed allies -- that have killed 52 American and other NATO troops so far this year.

Four more U.S. soldiers have died in Afghanistan since Metcalfe was killed in the 11-year-old conflict.

Metcalfe was an 11-year veteran who had been deployed three times to Iraq and Afghanistan before returning to Fort Benning in Georgia to become a drill instructor. He moved to Italy in 2011 and in July went back to Afghanistan with the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team for his fourth combat tour.

"He was a dedicated father, loved his country. He died saving the men that he served with, and we are so very, very proud of him," Nerges said.

The military lists his hometown as Liverpool, near Syracuse.

Nerges said he will be cremated and his ashes will go back to Italy with his wife.