Minnesota soldier killed in Afghanistanby Tom Weber, Minnesota Public Radio
A soldier is being remembered in the small western Minnesota town of Granite Falls. Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Ryan Kahler, 29, was killed Saturday in Afghanistan. The Pentagon originally said that friendly fire was responsible, but it later removed any reference to friendly fire from its statement. A spokesman says that's not because they've necessarily ruled it out -- they just wanted to remove speculation from their official statement.
St. Paul, Minn. — While the investigation continues over exactly how Kahler was killed, people who know him say there was never any doubt he'd be a soldier.
Matt Kahler's father, Ron Kahler, emphasized integrity when talking about his son Monday.
"I don't mean to sound biased, but you just need to know my son was one hell of a man," said Ron Kahler.
That's not to say the younger Kahler was all perfect.
"I can tell you that as an adolescent he was a strong-willed, obnoxious pain in the ass. But you know what, who isn't?"
But Ron and just about anyone else who knew Matt Kahler praised him.
Doug McCoss was principal at Yellow Medicine East High School when Matt went there in the mid-'90s.
"You remember the kids who caused a lot of problems. Those are the kids who stand out -- and the real active students who are in a lot of things," said McCoss. "Matt was the kind of student who came to school every day and did his job. Never a behavioral problem."
And no one ever doubted what Kahler was going to do when he grew up. One of Kahler's high school teachers, Gene Stukel, was also neighbors with the Kahlers for a few years.
"He felt he could make a difference. And so I think from eighth or ninth grade on, that was his goal -- to get into the military, which is what he did," said Stukel.
Kahler enlisted in the Army, in fact, after his junior year in high school. And from that point on he found a way to balance two commitments -- family and military.
Kahler shipped off to basic training before his high school graduation.
His father, Ron Kahler, remembers Matt getting leave to marry his high school sweetheart, Vicki, but also being on call during the ceremony.
"He walked to the front of the church and, as any good soldier would, he had his pager on," Ron Kahler recalled. "And before the service started, the pastor looked at him and said, 'You need to shut that off for at least the next 45 minutes.' And so, of course he shut it off for the next 45 minutes."
Matt and Vicki Kahler then moved overseas with his various assignments, and have been stationed in Vincenza, Italy, the past eight years.
In 2003, just a few hours before parachuting into northern Iraq at the start of the war, Kahler learned Vicki was pregnant. He got home on leave two hours before their daughter, Allison, was born, and then shipped back out 10 days later. Allison is now 4 years old.
Matt Kahler's death is also affecting the small town where he lived for so long, regardless of the fact that Matt hasn't lived there in more than a decade.
The editor of the weekly newspaper in Granite Falls noted there is an empty feeling in town, and everyone is talking about it.
Ron Kahler says his son never wavered on why he felt it was important to serve, noting that Matt was on his third tour of duty.
The last time father and son saw each other was last Easter, when Matt was at Fort Benning, Georgia for some training. Ron recalls Matt talking passionately about al Qaida as "thugs and hoodlums" who have to be defeated.
"And he said, 'I don't ever want my daughter, my wife, or anyone else in the world to have to live with that kind of evil.' And he gave his life, doing what he believed in," said Ron Kahler.
Funeral arrangements for Kahler are pending.
- All Things Considered, 01/28/2008, 5:24 p.m.