Marine Cpl. Erik T. Garoutte spent hours practicing his "Ace Ventura" faces in the mirror, but when he considered joining the military, he spent hours seriously discussing his options with Jeff Stine, an associate pastor at Zion Christian Fellowship in Spring Valley, Calif.
"He was doing it to serve his country and improve his future," Stine said. "He understood that he could die, and he'd made his peace with that."
Garoutte, 22, of Santee, Calif., collapsed and died Oct. 19 after working out in Baghdad, where he had been stationed for nearly three months.
Autopsy results were pending.
He was assigned to the 1st Fleet Anti-terrorism Security Team Company, Marine Corps Security Force Battalion, 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force in Norfolk, Va.
Garoutte grew up in Santee, a San Diego suburb, and was a devoted Jim Carrey fan. During one family photo session, he arched one eyebrow and made a goofy face for every shot. "It was hard to pick one out in the end," said his stepmother, Judith Garoutte.
The eldest of five children, Garoutte doted on his siblings, buying them gifts and making time to play with all of them. "The kids just loved him," his stepmother said.
Garoutte became more religious as a teenager and joined several church youth groups.
"It was just something he did on his own," his stepmother said. "It started off as a social thing, but he gradually became closer to God."
His father and stepmother are both musicians, and Garoutte began to play the guitar more as he became increasingly active in church.
After graduating from Santana High School in 2004, he worked several jobs and briefly moved to Nashville with a friend, where they attempted to break into the music business. The highlight of his stay was being in the audience during an episode of "Nashville Star."
"It was harder than he thought," his stepmother said. "He drove for 24 hours to get home, where he could feel the love."
After moving back to the San Diego area, Garoutte began considering the military.
"He was floundering, and he didn't know what he wanted to do, but he knew he needed to get his ducks in a row," Stine said.
Garoutte enlisted in 2005, and his family agreed that the military gave him direction. "He went into boot camp a boy and came out a man," his stepmother said.
Garoutte embraced the military and started calling his stepgrandfather, Bruce Craig, a retired Navy fighter pilot, "sir."
"I told him, 'No, no, just call me Grandpa,' " Craig said. "You could tell he loved it, and there's a lot of consolation in that fact."
Stine and his wife once took Garoutte out to dinner, and he insisted on wearing his uniform. "He'd worked so hard for it that he wanted to stay in it," Stine said.
After boot camp, Garoutte trained at Camp Pendleton before being stationed in Norfolk, Va.
Before going to Iraq, he spent about 10 days at home with his family in August. One of his last outings was a fishing trip with his father, Robert; he caught two fish, but his father came up empty-handed. "He got to spend time with his dad, and he beat him, so he called it one of his best days," his stepmother said.
In Iraq, Garoutte was stationed at the U.S. Embassy and had just begun guarding politicians and dignitaries.
Garoutte's mother, Donna Stone, had a heart attack after hearing of his death; family friends say she is recovering.
"It is true what they say about a mother's love. When they lose a child, they lose a piece of their heart, and that's exactly what happened," Stine said.
In addition to his mother, father and stepmother, Garoutte is survived by his four siblings.