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Army Capt. Scott Pace of Brawley dies in Afghanistan

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Scott Pace's journey into the military was far from traditional.

After graduating from Brawley Union High in Imperial County, he attended Brigham Young University in Utah for a year. He spent the next two years on his Mormon mission in Argentina and then returned to BYU.

Meanwhile, his brother Rick, two years younger, had entered the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. Rick knew how much his brother loved basketball — he had been all league in high school but wasn't good enough for the BYU team.

After watching the West Point team play, Rick told his brother he could play there.

So Scott received an appointment to West Point, where he majored in nuclear engineering. But unlike transferring to most other schools, Scott had to start over as a freshman. Because his brother also took two years out for his Mormon mission, the two graduated together in 2005.

After West Point, Scott Pace attended flight school, where he learned to fly the Kiowa Warrior OH-58 helicopter. He served two tours of duty in Iraq, where he was hit with shrapnel in the arm and hand, and one in Afghanistan.

Capt. Scott Pace died June 6 in Qarah Bagh, Afghanistan, when the helicopter he was piloting crashed after being hit by Taliban fire. He was troop commander of the 1st Squadron, 17th Cavalry Regiment, 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division at Ft. Bragg, N.C. He was 33.

"He was a pretty straight-arrow kind of guy who cared about people," said his father, Patrick Pace. "He wasn't like a caricature of a soldier. He was very tender. In his mind he was serving his country. He was doing what he knew he was supposed to do."

Pace was born in Portland, Ore. Not long after, the family moved to Brawley. He graduated fifth in his high school class and was an Eagle Scout. In addition to playing basketball, he was on the swim team.

"He's highly competitive," Rick Pace said. "When he gets going, he wants to win. I've seen him almost get in fights with teammates if they were not pulling their weight."

While at West Point, a change of coaches meant he was no longer on the basketball team. "When he stopped playing basketball, it was like a part of him died," Rick said. "It was worse than getting a divorce."

To fill the void, he took up a sport he had never played, team handball, and led the squad to the Division 2 National Championship his junior year. He also was tight end in sprint football, which is played with full pads by players weighing no more than 172 pounds.

While stationed at Ft. Bragg, he often would make the five-hour drive to Washington, D.C., where his brother was stationed. "When there was a snowstorm, he would shovel the sidewalk of the entire neighborhood," said Rick, who is now stationed at Ft. Riley in Kansas and expects to leave the Army in about two months.

Scott's next assignment, starting in September, was to return to BYU to work with the ROTC program. At the same time, he was planning to study for his MBA. "He didn't need to receive praise from anyone," Rick said. "He was very confident that what he was doing in life was the right thing he was supposed to be doing."

About 800 people showed up for his memorial service in Brawley on June 16. He was buried next to his grandparents at Evergreen Cemetery in Springville, Utah, just south of Provo.

"Scott was very kind and gentle and loving," said his sister Brooke Pace Manriquez. "He was very cultured and educated and loved this country. He felt compelled to protect our freedom."

jeff.gottlieb@latimes.com

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