Two Minnesota soldiers were killed in separate attacks in Afghanistan this week -- a lieutenant from Apple Valley who was sixth in his class at West Point and a specialist from Maplewood, the Army said Friday.
Spc. Matthew Johnson of Maplewood was killed by a homemade bomb Tuesday in Lagman, Afghanistan. Johnson, 21, was a member of the 618th Engineer Company, part of the 18th Airborne Corps based at Fort Bragg, N.C.
Johnson's family said he went to North High School in North St. Paul and loved hunting, fishing, snowboarding, skateboarding and basketball. He joined the Army in 2008.
Julie Roden of Maplewood was a neighbor to Johnson and remembers him as having a ready smile.
"Always happy, always had a smile on his face, [he was a] really, really nice young man," Roden said. "He liked to ride his bike, him and his brother worked on cars, he liked to cut the grass, his yard was very nicely manicured, and very close to his mother, really nice to his mom."
Also killed this week was 1st Lt. Christopher Goeke, 23, a member of the 82nd Airborne Division, based at Fort Bragg, N.C. Goeke was killed Tuesday in an attack in Kandahar.
Goeke was sixth in his class at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and grew up in Apple Valley, Minn., where he graduated from Apple Valley High School in 2004.
"He was a beloved leader among his peers and always brought smiles, laughter and wisdom beyond his years," Goeke's family said.
A family statement Friday did not give details of his service, but dispatches from reporters covering the fighting in recent months indicate he had been helping train Afghan solders.
Pete Buesgens, one of Goeke's high school teachers, said Goeke was everything a teacher wants a student to be.
"He was inquisitive, but also very caring of his classmates and looking to give back," he said. "He actually came back and spoke either after his first or second year at West Point and he talked to my classes, my AP U.S. history classes. He wasn't there to recruit or anything, just to talk about an Apple Valley kid and what it took to get there."
In separate statements, families of both men asked that the media honor their privacy and said they did not wish to answer questions.
Goeke's parents are Randy Goeke and Pamela Schultz, Buesgens said, adding that he is also survived by his wife Kelsey and at least two siblings.
The Johnson family statement said he's survived by a mother, father and older brother, and special friend Katie Burns.
Funeral arrangements for both soldiers are pending.