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WASHINGTON — Pat Tillman, who gave up the glamorous life of a professional football star to join the Army Rangers, was remembered as a role model of courage and patriotism Friday after military officials said he had been killed in action in Afghanistan.
“Pat Tillman was an inspiration on and off the football field, as with all who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the war on terror. His family is in the thoughts and prayers of President and Mrs. Bush,” Taylor Gross, a spokesman for the White House, said in a statement.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the author of a recent book about courage, said he was “heartbroken” and raised the prospect that “the tragic loss of this extraordinary young man” could be a “heavy blow to our nation’s morale, as it is surely a grievous injury to his loved ones.”
Tillman, 27, was a member of the 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, based at Fort Lewis, Wash. The battalion was involved in Operation Mountain Storm in southeastern Afghanistan, part of the U.S. campaign against fighters of the al-Qaida terror network and the former Taliban government along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, military officials told NBC News.
U.S. military spokesman Lt. Col. Matthew Beevers said Saturday that Tillman was killed Thursday night in a firefight at about 7 p.m. on a road near Sperah, about 25 miles southwest of a U.S. base at Khost.
After coming under fire, Tillman’s patrol got out of their vehicles and gave chase, moving toward the spot of the ambush. Beevers said the fighting was “sustained” and lasted 15-20 minutes.
Pat Tillman turned down a $3.6 million contract in 2002 to join the Army in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
Beevers said Tillman was killed by enemy fire, but he had no information about what type of weapons were involved in the assault, or whether he died instantly.
An Afghan militiaman fighting alongside Tillman also was killed, and two other U.S. soldiers were wounded.
A local Afghan commander, Gen. Khial Bas, told The Associated Press that nine enemy fighters were killed in the confrontation.
Bas said six other enemy fighters were believed to have escaped. Beevers said he had no information about any enemy fighters killed.
Overall, 110 U.S. soldiers have died, 39 of them in combat, during Operation Enduring Freedom, which began in Afghanistan in late 2001.
Spokesmen at the Defense Department and the Army would not comment Friday, in keeping with a policy that no U.S. casualties of war be identified for at least 24 hours. But Tillman’s death was confirmed by the House Armed Services Committee, whose members were notified by the Defense Department, The Arizona Republic reported on its Web site.
Tillman turned down a three-year, $3.6 million contract with the Arizona Cardinals of the National Football League to enlist in the Army in May 2002 in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, which killed about 3,000 people in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.
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