ST. ANTHONY -- Before he left his hometown of St. Anthony for Iraq, Lance Cpl. Dustin V. Birch visited his former debate coach at South Fremont High School.
Margaret Oveson remembers the day well. It was winter, but the hot desert of Iraq was looming for the Marine. Birch had no complaints.
"We had a good chat, " Oveson said. "He was a tanker and he was proud of that."
That was the last time she talked with her former student.
Birch, 22, died in combat Thursday. Five Marines were killed by a roadside bomb during combat operations with the 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force in Haqlaniyah, Iraq, about 90 miles north of Baghdad.
Birch served in the Marine Forces Reserve's 4th Tank Battalion, 4th Marine Division based in Boise, one of about 90 Idaho Marine reservists serving a seven-month mission in Iraq.
"He joined for the challenge, " said his father, Paul Birch. "He wanted to join the Marines because ... they had the reputation of being the most challenging."
He and his wife, Debbie, learned of their son's death Thursday and did not know all the circumstances surrounding the incident. What is known is that he will be missed.
"I couldn't believe it when I heard it this morning, " said Richard Gardner, a counselor at South Fremont High School and one of Dustin Birch's Boy Scout leaders. "He was a very pleasant young man to work with."
Birch, the oldest of four children, graduated from South Fremont High in St. Anthony in 2001. St. Anthony is northeast of Rexburg.
In high school he played the saxophone with the band and ran track for a year. He was active in Scouts, earning his Eagle rank and working summers at Scout camps.
He also worked at the family business and helped his grandfather farm, Gardner said.
But Birch's forte was debate, his father said.
Birch was a policy debater on South Fremont's debate team, which won state competitions in 1999 and 2000.
"He was very dedicated, " Oveson said. "Whatever he did, he put a lot of pride to it."
Birch joined the Marines as a reservist and went through basic training in 2001.
He later completed a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, serving in Santa Rosa, Calif.
Last September, after Birch was accepted at LDS Business College in Salt Lake City, his reserve unit was called up. He completed a semester before reporting for training at Twentynine Palms, Calif., in January.
His tank platoon had been in Iraq for about three months, and his family expected him to serve another three before coming home.
Birch had no wife or children, but was engaged to be married before he left.
"He was very happy to serve his country, " Oveson said. "He was just glad to be part of it."