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SALT LAKE CITY -- Soldiers from the Utah National Guard are remembering one of their own, who was killed in Afghanistan this week.
People who knew Sgt. 1st Class James Thode, 45, say he was one of Utah's finest soldiers. Thode served with Utah's 118th Engineer (Sapper) Company.
The unit provides route-clearing missions to support coalition forces in Afghanistan. Officials say on Dec. 2, Thode was leading soldiers in an operation when insurgents attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device.
He had a deep concern and care for every one of his men in that platoon and they looked to him as a father and I know it's hitting very hard.
–Lt. Col. Joseph Grimmett
Thode died from his injuries. People who knew Thode say he was a proven leader and a consummate professional.
"Jim Thode was a great man and a great soldier," said Sgt. 1st Class David Liddle.
Thode was well liked and respected by all who knew him.
"He was a humble person, soft spoken and had a way of connecting with everybody he met," said Liddle.
Lt. Col. Joseph Grimmett recalled how Thode was so dedicated to his job he gave up an opportunity for a command position with a different unit.
"Pending development, he chose to stay with his men, knowing the risk," he said.
Thode's job was a dangerous one. "There are very few roads in Afghanistan," said Grimmett. "The roads are very important to not only travel about but also for supplies, logistics and also in the economics of those provinces."
Grimmett says the unit often found IEDs before they exploded. Officials say the unit has been hit numerous times, but Thode is the first casualty.
"He had a deep concern and care for every one of his men in that platoon and they looked to him as a father and I know it's hitting very hard," he said.
Thode deployed to Afghanistan in July. He was part of a group of reservists who got a big send off in Moab as they left to join the rest of their company in Salt Lake.
This was Thode's second deployment. He went to Iraq in 2003. Thode is from New Mexico and was a 14-year veteran of the Farmington, N.M. Police Department.
He leaves behind a wife and two children. "It's important to remember our soldiers and airmen and what they're doing, especially in harm's way and being away from their families," said Lt. Col. Hank McIntire.
Thode is the sixth Utah National Guard soldier that has died since 9-11 while serving in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. A fund for Thode's family has been set up at any Wells Fargo Bank.