U.S. Department of Defense officials confirmed that Andrew J. Baddick, 26, drowned Monday as he tried to rescue another soldier whose vehicle plunged into a canal near Abu Ghraib Prison, Iraq.
County Veteran Affairs Director Charles McHugh said an Army chaplain and a staff sergeant visited the family Tuesday night and informed them of Baddick's death.
Baddick's ex-wife, Jami Sydensticker, said the family was told he dived into water to try to save another soldier, hit his head and drowned. Baddick was an expert swimmer who worked as a guide for white-water trips on the Lehigh River.
Sydensticker said it would be like Baddick to try to save another person. "If he saw somebody in trouble, he would try to help, especially if it was one of his people," she said.
Baddick, a 1997 Jim Thorpe Area High School graduate, had been in Iraq only about a month. In 2002, he worked with computers tracking troops from Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan during Operation Enduring Freedom.
McHugh said Baddick, who visited him during leaves from the service, wanted to make a career of the military. "All he wanted to do was be in the Army and be a paratrooper," McHugh said.
Baddick joined the Army in 1999 and completed basic training at Fort Hood, Texas, then graduated from jump school at Fort Benning in Georgia in February 2001. He was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division out of Fort Bragg, N.C. Last year he re-enlisted for six years.
Sydensticker, who was married to Baddick for a year and lives near Pittsburgh, said she last saw him in January. She described him as a helpful person who liked kayaking, hunting and taking their two dogs to the park.
"He liked being in the military for the most part, but it is definitely not a place to have a relationship," she said. "It takes two strong people. That's the only thing he hated about it."
Flags at the Carbon County courthouse, Jim Thorpe schools and the community's Veterans of Foreign Wars post flew at half-staff Wednesday.
McHugh, who watched Baddick grow up, was upset by the death. "When you lose one in your hometown, your home county, it's tough to take," he said.
Word of Baddick's death spread quickly through the Jim Thorpe area, where he worked as a guide for Jim Thorpe River Adventures during high school and after graduation.
Owner Dave Kuhn said he met Baddick when he was 12 years old and took his first trip on the Lehigh River. Two years later, Kuhn said, Baddick was a proficient kayaker.
Kuhn said Baddick, who called him "Uncle Dave," worked on and off for him for 13 years. He said he had an easygoing personality and was well-liked by customers whom he guided down the river.
Kuhn said he last saw Baddick when he was on leave in the spring when he visited him and paddled a kayak on the river.
At the family home on Front Street, a picture of Baddick in his Army desert camouflage hung on the front window near a sign urging people to pray for U.S. troops.
Chris Gehres of Jim Thorpe, who knew Baddick from childhood, said the military instilled more discipline and focus in Baddick. "He certainly was a changed man," Gehres said.
Ron Sheehan, who serves as county treasurer and director of the Asa Packer Mansion in Jim Thorpe, said Baddick's mother, Ann, had worked at the mansion.
Baddick's mother was a proud military mom. She helped organize a support-the-troops rally held in Jim Thorpe in April and was part of a group of parents who shipped care packages to soldiers.
She also volunteered to help with Jim Thorpe's annual July 4 fireworks display after her son told her he would be disappointed if the event was canceled. The event was in doubt because of a lack of volunteers for the festival.
Reporter Chris Parker contributed to this story.