Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

As a beginning hurdler for the track team at Ventura County’s Oak Park High School, Brian M. Wolverton fell and hit the ground more than a few times. He would then quietly talk to himself about how to improve his form and technique, his coach said. And he would try again and again.

In track competition and in later challenges in his life, Wolverton “demonstrated a determination and persistence to overcome all obstacles,” recalled his high school coach, Kevin Smith.

Former teammate Gary Fong also remembered Wolverton’s positive attitude in a sport with its share of injuries and pain. “He simply never complained,” Fong said. “Most of us complained after tough workouts while Brian just ran the workouts to the best of his ability without any qualms.”

After Wolverton graduated from high school in 2006, he spent 2 1/2 years at Moorpark College, where he became interested in cultural anthropology and earned his associate’s degree.

In January, the Oak Park resident signed up for a six-year hitch in the Army. He trained at Ft. Benning in Georgia and then was sent to Ft. Drum in New York, where he was a private first class assigned to the 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (Light Infantry).

Part of Wolverton’s motivation was to continue an unbroken military tradition for men in his family, dating from his father’s Army service to a great-great-grandfather’s stint in the Union army during the Civil War, his parents said.

But, after a mundane summer job at a supermarket deli counter, he also longed for adventure, his parents said. And most of all, he wanted to be part of a team effort for an important cause.

“I think he joined because he felt he wanted to do something to give back to the country, and he wasn’t the kind of guy who would be happy sitting behind a desk,” said his father, Christopher Wolverton.

An infantryman, Brian Wolverton deployed to Afghanistan with his unit in August. He was excited about going, said his mother, Miriam.

“He trained for so long and wanted to be able to do something, and put all that knowledge to use,” she said.

Wolverton’s unit was in eastern Afghanistan’s Kunar province Aug. 20 when it was attacked by insurgents. Wolverton, 21, was killed by indirect fire -- a military term that usually refers to a mortar or rocket attack. Among the medals awarded to him posthumously were the Purple Heart and Bronze Star.

He is survived by his parents, who are both accountants and longtime Oak Park residents; and his 17-year-old brother, Michael. Funeral services were held Aug. 29 at Pierce Bros. Valley Oaks Memorial Park in Westlake Village.

Born in Tarzana, Wolverton grew up in Oak Park. Friends and teachers described him as relatively quiet with a sarcastic sense of humor.

At an early age, Wolverton was a fan of war action video games, such as “Call of Duty 4" and the Magic fantasy card game, his mother said. But track became the focus of his teen years. Later, while in college, he worked as an assistant track coach at his high school.

Wolverton wanted an Army career but planned to pursue a bachelor’s degree, probably in cultural anthropology, through the GI Bill, his parents said.

John Baker, a Moorpark College anthropology professor, recalled Wolverton as a student who often stayed after class to chat about history and current events, including the conflict in Afghanistan. “It really indicated to me a maturity and that he was a deep thinker,” Baker said.

He said Wolverton wanted to understand other cultures not just to get a good grade but to “understand the motivations of other people.”