Chad Regelin surprised his parents at dinner one night in 2006 by announcing that he was joining the Navy.
Regelin, of the small Northern California community of Anderson, had been employed by a construction company since he graduated from high school a few months earlier. Working with a road crew, he had become interested in explosives, he told his parents. He planned to enroll in the Navy's explosive ordnance disposal school and learn how to dismantle bombs.
"We were like, 'what?' But he said he wanted to learn how to do this and help other people," said his mother, Shirene Regelin. "I was nervous but proud of him because I knew it was what he wanted to do."
A bomb disposal expert who had twice been decorated for valor, Petty Officer 1st Class Chad R. Regelin was killed by an improvised explosive device Jan. 2 while he was on patrol in southern Afghanistan's Helmand province, on the Pakistani border.
Regelin, 24, who was on his third combat tour, was serving in the war zone with Marine Special Operations Company Bravo. He was based in San Diego with the Navy's Explosive Ordnance Disposal Mobile Unit 3.
Mark Brittain, a senior chief bomb disposal technician who was Regelin's supervisor on his final deployment, said the young man had volunteered to go back to Afghanistan, taking the place of an injured team member, even though he had just returned from an arduous tour there.
"It was pretty unbelievable, but he was always that type of guy," Brittain said.
Regelin explained the decision to his family by saying that those who might otherwise have had to deploy were all married. Since he wasn't, he thought he should step up, his mother said.
The youngest of four siblings, Regelin was born May 30, 1987, in Redding and grew up in nearby Anderson, a city of about 10,000.
An active, athletic kid, he played baseball and soccer throughout junior high, then followed the example of his older brother Ryan and joined the football team at Anderson Union High School.
Teacher Tim Klaiber, who helped coach the team, remembers that although the younger Regelin was not a big kid at the time, he made his presence felt on the football field.
"He went out and gave it everything he had, every time he played," Klaiber said.
In his senior year, Regelin won the team's outstanding player award.
That same year, he persuaded Klaiber, who had grown up surfing, to let him come along on a surf trip to Santa Cruz. Regelin caught his first wave and was hooked, the teacher said. He later helped start a surf club at the high school.
"He loved anything outdoors, anything with the possibility of getting hurt," Ryan Regelin said, noting his brother's interests, along with surfing, in skiing, fast driving and riding a longboard down steep hills. "He was always trying different things and enjoying them."
Regelin also was very good at his dangerous military specialty, Brittain and others said.
In 2011, he was honored as the USO's Sailor of the Year, partly on the strength of what commanding officers described as his leadership and heroic actions to protect his team during two days of combat In Kandahar province in October 2010.
"His outstanding situational awareness and keen attention to detail in a combat environment undoubtedly saved the lives of his teammates, protected the local population and furthered the mission" of clearing a village of armed insurgents, Navy Cmdr. Charles H. Andrews wrote in the nominating letter.
Regelin's military honors include the Bronze Star for valor and the Army Commendation Medal, also for valor.
His funeral, held Jan. 14 at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Anderson, was attended by hundreds of people. Many others lined the route from the church to the Northern California Veterans Cemetery in Igo, where he was buried.
In addition to his mother and brother Ryan, Regelin's survivors include his father, Scott; his brother Justin; and his sister, Jill Graham, all of Anderson.
His family plans to mark his birthday this May as they have since his childhood, with a camping trip over Memorial Day weekend to Patrick's Point State Park, on the coast north of Eureka.