Army Sgt. Eric M. Houck was a dedicated soldier and father of two who had embarked on his first overseas deployment just eight months before he was killed over the weekend in Afghanistan, his father says.
Houck, who was 25, was to have returned home next month. He died along with two other soldiers.
The sergeant from Baltimore was fatally shot on Saturday in Afghanistan's Nangarhar Province alongside Sgt. William M. Bays, 29, of Barstow, California, and Cpl. Dillon C. Baldridge, 22, of Youngsville, North Carolina. All were part of the 101st Airborne Division based at Fort Campbell, the Army post on the Kentucky-Tennessee line.
A Department of Defense statement said -- without giving further details Monday -- that the soldiers died of gunshot wounds and that their deaths are under investigation.
In Washington, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer acknowledged the deaths Monday at his regular press briefing.
"I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge the three service members that were killed this weekend in Afghanistan. The incident is currently under investigation, but our thoughts and our prayers are with the families of these American heroes who've lost their lives in this tragic event," Spicer told reporters.
Houck enlisted a few years after graduating from high school in the Baltimore suburbs. He had married his high school sweetheart and found in military duty a way to support his growing family and serve his country, his father said. The soldier leaves behind two young children.
"He was a husband and father first," said his father, Mike Houck. "He was a son and brother, and then he was a soldier. His family was the most important thing to him." He also loved playing soccer, football and baseball.
Mike Houck said he was nervous when he first learned his only son would be heading overseas.
"If he was nervous, he didn't let on," Houck added. "He took it bravely, as his responsibility as a soldier. He was unwavering in his dedication to that. But as a parent you're nervous every day."
Houck began his military career as a private and rose to the rank of sergeant in just three years, his father said. He added that his son would travel in forward positions with the infantry and was responsible for directing airstrikes.
"He was exemplary," Houck said. "He was a hell of a father, a husband, a son, a brother, a soldier."