When he was in fifth grade, Derek Argel started showing up at high school water polo practices. He eventually grew to 6-foot-6, became the school's most valuable player and went on to play at the Air Force Academy.
"He worked exceptionally hard. He never took anything for granted," athletic director Bob Lawrence said.
Argel, 28, of Lompoc, Calif., was killed May 30 in a crash of his surveillance plane about 80 miles northeast of Baghdad. He was based at Hurlburt Field.
Argel loved the water _ in addition to playing water polo, he worked as a lifeguard, fished and surfed. He kept fishing poles and surf boards in the garage with hopes of passing his hobbies on to his 11-month son, Logan.
"He was very adventurous and outdoorsy," said his aunt, Carolyn Gentry, recalling how he used to trek through the woods with her son. "They loved to be out in nature and camp, and go out looking for critters and snakes."
Though he was happiest spending time at the beach and playing with the family's two dogs, he felt God intended him to be in the military.
"He was just a soldier by every means of the imagination" said his wife, Wendy.