SGT Paul A. Rivera grew up playing with Micro Machines and video games with his best friend Nick Carmona.
Their favorites were first-person shooters, but they also enjoyed sports games.
“He would always school me on Madden,” Carmona said.
The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks inspired the two to join the military as soon as they were old enough. Rivera joined the Army, Carmona the Air Force.
“The games we used to play had just become reality,” Carmona said.
SGT Rivera was killed Saturday in Logar province, Afghanistan, from injuries sustained when the vehicle he was traveling in was attacked and rolled over, according to a Pentagon statement. He was 26.
Rivera was assigned to the 709th Military Police Battalion, 18th Military Police Brigade, 21st Theater Sustainment Command, based in Hohenfels, Germany.
His family was not available for comment Monday.
Rivera joined the military after graduating in 2003 from Stony Point High School.
“He was funny, he was charismatic, he was a genuine person, he was kind-hearted,” said Carmona, 22, who is a senior airman.
Rivera was also deeply religious.
“He was constantly praying and did everything by the book. He left everything in God’s hands,” Carmona said.
The two kept in close contact and last corresponded via Facebook 11 days before Rivera was killed.
“I could tell he wanted to come back home, but the soldier that he was, he didn’t let other people see that,” Carmona said.
“It hurts me a lot because I didn’t get to say, ‘I love you,’ to him; I just said, ‘I’ll talk to you later, man.'”
Funeral arrangements are pending.
SGT Rivera is the 1,818th American to die in Afghanistan