For such a carefree spirit, Army Spc. Gregory Millard had been making a lot of plans.
There were the plans for how he and his older brother, Jason, would fix up their duplex in San Diego. How he would ask the father of his longtime girlfriend, Lacey Martin, for her hand in marriage. Plans for starting a nightclub, or maybe a security firm. And for starting a family.
“His whole life was mapped out,” said Jason Millard.
“He said making plans for the future helped make the time go by,” Martin added.
Millard’s plans ended May 26 on a dusty road in Iraq’s Salah Ad Din Province, when he and two fellow paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division at Ft. Bragg, N.C., were killed by an improvised explosive that tore their armored Humvee apart just miles from their base.
Millard was 22.
Born and raised in the north San Diego neighborhood of Kearny Mesa, Millard went to junior high and high school in La Jolla, where his father opened a bicycle shop 30 years ago.
Though he was a wrestler and football player in high school, his real sports passions were cycling and roller hockey.
Where Jason was reserved, Gregory was outgoing. “He would always light up the room,” said Jason, 27.
His family remembers that Millard was barely a teenager when he first announced he would one day join the military. “He felt he could do a little traveling and get a good education” through the GI Bill, recalled his mother, Jill.
Though his grandfather had served during the Korean War and an uncle is an Army Ranger, Millard’s inspiration for joining the service came from the 1997 film “Con Air,” in which actor Nicolas Cage plays a former Army Ranger aboard a transport plane seized by convicts.
“He took the film with him all the time. I think he even took it with him to Iraq,” Jason Millard said.
After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Millard was more determined than ever to join the military, his family said.
Enlisting in October 2004, Millard transformed himself into the soldier he had always envisioned. Soon nicknames from his youth, such as his mother’s favorite, “Shortie Pie,” hardly seemed to fit Millard, who had grown both physically and mentally.
“He was extremely professional; everyone looked up to him,” said Daniel Marsh, who met Millard at Ft. Bragg and became a close friend.
“He knew the job better than anyone.”
Like Millard, Marsh, of Oceanside, was from the San Diego area. “He was like my brother, like family,” said Marsh, 25. “When you are with someone for a year” in combat, “it is like 20 years in a regular life.”
If the rigors of the mission ever got to him, Millard never shared that burden with his family, fiancee or friends.
“He would never tell us anything about the danger he was in,” Martin said. “He didn’t want us to worry.”
The last time she spoke to her son, Jill Millard remembered, he sounded tired. “He had just been on one of their four-day missions,” she said, choking back tears. “He was tired and hungry and dirty and hot ... and he said, ‘I want to come home.’ ”
Two days later, Jill Millard was returning to the family’s ranch home in Ramona when she spotted a black sedan with two men inside.
“It didn’t register at first,” she said. “But then it hit me pretty quick when I realized who they were.”
One was an Army chaplain, the other an 82nd Airborne paratrooper.
Millard was buried June 4, a Monday, which held special significance because it was, for years, the one day of the week that his father closed his shop to spend time with his boys.
Under an overcast sky, Millard was laid to rest at Ft. Rosecrans National Cemetery in Point Loma, on a bluff overlooking the spot on San Diego Bay where he and his older brother had spent many summer days fishing.
At the funeral, attended by more than 400, Jason Millard set aside the eulogy he had worked so hard to prepare.
“When I got up, the only thing I wanted people to do was remember him and honor him,” Jason said. “He didn’t take much explaining. People knew who he was.”
Millard’s family has set up a website, www.armymillard.com, and a foundation for donations to supply soldiers with critical safety equipment beyond the standard issue.