Eric Christian, Warwick Marine killed in Afghanistan, arrives in U.S. today

Marine Staff Sgt. Eric D. Christian, 39, of Marine Staff Sgt. Eric D. Christian, 39, of Warwick, died May 4, 2013, while conducting combat operations in Afghanistan. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Staff Sgt. Eric Christian's family

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The plane carrying the remains of Staff Sgt. Eric D. Christian, the 39-year-old Marine from Warwick killed on patrol in western Afghanistan on Saturday, is scheduled to land at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware on Tuesday, officials said.

Christian, born in White Plains and raised in Poughkeepsie and Ramsey, N.J., was fatally shot along with another Marine, Cpl. David M. Sonka, 23, of Parker, Colo., by an Afghan army soldier embedded with an American unit for patrol duty, his younger brother, Phillip Christian, told Newsday in a phone interview Monday.

The Afghan soldier also killed Sonka's working dog, Flex, before other Marines killed him, the brother said.

Christian's family members were transported to the base to meet the plane, a Marine spokesman said.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo directed that flags on state buildings be flown at half-staff Thursday to honor Christian's service.

"I join with all New Yorkers in mourning the loss of Staff Sgt. Christian," Cuomo said in a statement. "We will honor his service and sacrifice and his dedication to our nation."

Phillip Christian, 36, described his brother as a veteran of the Marine intelligence unit who re-enlisted several times because he felt his unit needed him.

"The team that he led, he depended on them and they depended on him," he said. "That's why he kept re-upping. He wasn't going to be a career guy, I can tell you that. He had thought about when he was going to get out, but his feeling was, they needed him, so, he was just kind of seeing how long his body would hold out."

A Defense Department official declined to discuss the details of the two deaths, saying the incident is being investigated. Eric Christian was attached to the 2nd Marine Special Operations Battalion in Camp Lejeune, N.C.

His mother, Linda, acknowledged the news from her Warwick home Monday but said she was not prepared to discuss her son. Eric Christian called Warwick home for more than eight years while in the Marines, returning there when he was on leave, the family said.

Phillip Christian explained that he and his three brothers -- Eric; Chris, 40; and Mark, 32 -- spent their early childhood in the Poughkeepsie area, then moved with the family to Ramsey, where the brothers graduated from Ramsey High School. Eric played varsity football at Ramsey, graduating in 1993.

"I know a lot of people talk about being a better person," Phillip Christian said of his brother. "But he actually tried to be a better person every day.

"I remember, I went to high school with him for two years. It was really cliquey; you know how high school can be. You had your jocks, your cool kids, the band kids, the stoners or whatever you want to call them. And Eric had the broadest group of friends of any of us. He could sit at the athletes' table, the cool kids' table. He was friends with everyone."

Eric Christian attended college at Grambling in Louisiana for a year, played football there and "hated it," his brother said. He lived in Seattle and San Francisco, then returned to New Jersey and was back in college when the 9/11 terrorist attacks changed his perspective on life.

"My brother Mark was in ROTC in college and enlisted [in the Marines] after 9/11, out of a sense of patriotism," Phillip Christian said. "Eric enlisted when Mark was deployed, also out of a sense of patriotism, and a sense of responsibility to his family and his country, I think. He was always the one to look after us and defend us when we were all in school."

Eric Christian never married, his brother said.

"We received a phone call from the base commander," Phillip Christian said, referring to his brother's unit in Afghanistan. "He said when Eric's body was put on the plane, there were 150 Marines at full attention as the plane took off. He said he had never seen anything like that before."

The family plans to hold a memorial service in Ramsey after Eric Christian's burial in Arlington National Cemetery near Washington. The dates are still to be determined.

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