A former LaGrange student and U.S. soldier stationed at Fort Stewart near Savannah was killed in Afghanistan early Tuesday morning.
Twenty-four-year-old Sergeant Stefan Smith, along with First Lieutenant Jonam Russell, 25, of Cornville Arizona and Specialist Rob Nichols, 24, of Colorado Springs, Colorado and four Afghan soldiers, died in an attack. A suicide bomber on a donkey set off an explosive.
Sgt. Smith joined the army in November 2009. He arrived overseas in June 2012 on his first deployment.
Longtime friend and LaGrange Coach Scooter Weathers said Smith was one of those special students that come along every once and a while. He takes comfort in knowing Smith died doing what he loved, but is still crushed by the news. "It's almost like I got punched in the stomach. I just kind of sat there and paused and went outside and cried some...you know it's hard."
Smith was a husband and father of three young kids. He will never get the chance to meet his baby daughter.
Coach Weathers met the rowdy 12-year-old teen at Gardner Newman Middle School in LaGrange and helped kick-start Smith's six-year wrestling career. "No matter what happened he smiled. Win, lose or draw he smiled; off the mat he was the super, nice guy. Wrestling's something that what you put in is what you get out. He put everything he had in it and I know that's what he did with the military. He put everything he had in it."
When Smith graduated from LaGrange High School in 2008 he had only lost one match as a senior on the wrestling team.
Weathers said he always talked about going into the military; his father was a soldier and he loved his country. But after graduating he became a DeKalb police officer for about six months. "That wasn't a challenge so he called me and says I'm going into the military and my comment to him was, I said, what took you so long," Coach Weathers remembered.
Smith, an infantryman, was due home in September. He held the rank of sergeant.
On Wednesday, friends and coaches from all across Georgia were remembering the humble young man.
"He'll be a hero here forever," said Weathers.
Smith will be buried in Hinesville, Georgia. He is from Glennville, Georgia. His family is tentatively planning a visitation in LaGrange. Coach Weathers is planning to hold a ceremony to retire one of Smith's old wrestling uniforms.