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Army Staff Sgt. Christopher R. Webb, 28, Hemet; among 3 killed by a roadside bomb in Baghdad

Times Staff Writer

As a top-notch Army recruiter, Christopher R. Webb stood out because he had lived his message about serving his country, seeing the world and growing up. His honesty also made him effective -- he never claimed that being a soldier would be easy, safe or somewhere other than Iraq.

But it bothered the Hemet-area native that his own assignments had been relatively risk-free, in South Korea as well as Washington state and the recruiting station in Red Bank, N.J.

The Army wanted Webb to remain a recruiter; he opted for foreign duty. And when the moment arrived last October to leave for Iraq, he had long been ready, though it tore him up to leave behind his wife and infant daughter.

On March 7, the 28-year-old staff sergeant was among three soldiers killed when a roadside bomb exploded near their Humvee in Baghdad.

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He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division at Ft. Hood, Texas.

The guestbook from his funeral is filled with tributes to Webb, but his wife, Shalan, also found this older note in a shoebox from a recruit:

“Everything you have done for me is more than anyone has even thought about doing for me,” the soldier wrote. “I can say without a doubt in my mind you are the nicest person I ever met. I owe you and will pay you back. How? By being the best I can be in the Army.”

That was just what Webb strove for, after teenage years that sometimes were hell-raising and frequently aimless. He was never much into school, although entranced by medieval history and the military.

His stepfather had been a Marine, a Vietnam veteran. He had grandfathers who served too. And because his mother was an Army vet, he could use her nametag “Webb” and piece it together with uniforms and other artifacts for playing soldier out back: digging foxholes, camping out, putting on face paint, practicing survival techniques.

His stepfather, Michael Bullock, a former sniper, bought him his first rifle at age 10, and they would go “varmint hunting,” thinning out the coyotes plaguing local ranches. At 13, his room was decorated with meticulously assembled model aircraft hanging from the ceiling, some with mock bullet holes.

At he got older, Webb found time to cut up, skip a few classes, race cars, start smoking and grow his hair long, said his lifelong friend, Joshua Epstein. Webb didn’t finish Hemet’s West Valley High School, transferring instead to an alternative school.

But he clung to a dream of pulling himself together in the Army. He started with the Army National Guard before joining full time.

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Epstein said Webb always had been kind, but in terms of taking on responsibility as a soldier, “You could tell he was a changed person. You could tell.”

While posted at Ft. Lewis, Wash., Webb met Shalan and soon confided to Epstein, “I think I found the woman I want to marry.”

The wedding ceremony was in tiny Alturas, Calif., Shalan’s hometown, which had one bar, with a broken jukebox. Police arrived at his bachelor’s party when a well-oiled Webb was two-thirds up a flagpole.

“You must be Chris Webb,” they scolded him patiently, “and you’re getting married tomorrow.”

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An officer in Oregon was not so understanding. He gave Webb two speeding tickets -- one on the way to the wedding and one on the way back.

The occasional boisterousness began to fade as Webb made sergeant and became a model recruiter.

But he couldn’t relate what things were like in Iraq: “He had a lot of guilt over that,” said his mother, Teresa Bullock, a counselor who lives in Perris. “He kept telling me that he wanted to go over there because he was putting soldiers in and he knew a lot of them were ending up over there.”

It got worse when his younger brother, Coy, wanted to sign up.

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“Chris did not want to do it,” his mother said. “He begged me to have Coy talk to someone else. He has this fear of something happening to Coy. But Coy told us if we didn’t do something, he’d see another recruiter here in town.”

Webb reluctantly agreed to sign up his brother. “We had to make it clear that if something did happen, we would not hold Chris responsible in any way,” his mother said.

The Army wanted Webb to stay stateside as a recruiter, “but it wasn’t for him,” his wife said.

The call came at a rough time. His wife was finishing a bedridden, even life-threatening pregnancy. When their baby, Mary, emerged healthy, Webb tried to be awake whenever she was, to drink in every moment.

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“That’s one thing he worried about,” his mother said. “ ‘Will she know me when I come back?’ ”

The brothers shipped out from Ft. Hood on the same day last fall.

They were together in Kuwait for a couple of weeks, and both ended up at camps north of Baghdad -- Chris at Camp Liberty and Coy at Camp Taji.

In addition to overseeing his troops, Chris Webb’s work involved scouting in hostile territory, said Staff Sgt. Dave Barret.

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Webb also would evaluate local tribal leaders and imams, trying to deduce which were truly friendly. He prepared the first profile to determine whether a suspected insurgent should be let go, held or passed up the chain of command. Webb’s work resulted in uncovering a major weapons cache, one of the largest found during the conflict, Barret said.

To Shalan, Webb talked about his troops invading his room and spraying him with silly string. And she told him about Mary’s first tooth, about Mary sitting up: “He wanted to know every detail.”

Webb joked around in chats with his mother but also confessed to close calls from a mortar and a sniper. And he talked about worries for his men and his brother, and of how much he enjoyed handing out soccer balls and candy to Iraqi children.

Their last, lighthearted e-mail chat was the night before his final mission. On patrol the next morning, Webb took the blast full-force, dying almost instantly. The other two soldiers died soon after.

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In addition to his wife, 6-month-old daughter, mother, stepfather and brother, Webb is survived by his sister, Susan, of Perris; his father, Robert Webb Jr. of Golden Valley, Ariz.; his grandmother, Pat Webb; and his grandfather, Lawrence Hoffmann.

Webb’s funeral packed the high school gym in Alturas. “Shalan wanted him buried in Alturas,” his mother said. “She has a long road ahead. And she wants him nearby so she can take her daughter there and explain to her what a wonderful man her father was.”

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howard.blume@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

War casualties

Total U.S. deaths*:

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* In and around Iraq**: 3,229

* In and around Afghanistan***: 309

* Other locations***: 61

Source: Department of Defense* Includes military and Department of Defense-employed civilian personnel killed in action and in nonhostile circumstances

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**As of Friday

***As of March 17


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