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Originally published Thursday, May 6, 2010 at 1:56 PM

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Soldier from Thurston County dies in Afghanistan

A soldier from Washington state has died in Afghanistan.

Yakima Herald-Republic

YAKIMA — Mark Coleman was an Army special forces soldier, a 22-year veteran of the military who spoke Thai and had been stationed all over the world.

His wife, Barbie, will remember him as the farm boy who flirted with her by stealing her pencils at Goldendale High School only to return them neatly sharpened.

Master Sgt. Coleman, 40, with the Army's Company C, 2nd Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, died Sunday in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, when he stepped on an improvised explosive device, or IED.

Family members said Wednesday he died leading a patrol team on foot in a rugged, rural area of Kandahar Province.

"It blew him up before he even knew what hit him," said his sister-in-law, Pam Jussila.

This was Master Sgt. Coleman's fifth deployment in support of an overseas contingency operation, according to a release from U.S. Army Special Forces Command.

Master Sgt. Coleman grew up near Goldendale, Klickitat County, and his parents, Alice Eschelman and Jim Coleman, and other family members still live there.

"There's so many people that loved him," Barbie Coleman said in a phone call from their home in Yelm, Thurston County.

Master Sgt. Coleman deployed in December and was scheduled to be there until August. It was his third tour in Afghanistan.

For the past two years, the couple lived in Yelm with their two children, Jessica, 15, and Brett, 20, who also is in the Army, stationed at Fort Richardson in Alaska.

Family members and friends plan a public memorial May 15 in Goldendale. The family is also planning a private funeral.

"He was a local boy, and everybody knew him at one point," Jussila said.

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The Army ran through Master Sgt. Coleman's veins, his wife said. "He loved his job and he believed in what he was doing."

As a child growing up on a farm in Centerville, Master Sgt. Coleman wanted to join the special forces. He left for basic training immediately after graduation from Goldendale High School in 1988.

The high school sweethearts married Feb. 25, 1989, and spent one night together in The Dalles, Ore., before he returned to training in Fort Sill, Okla. He left for Germany the next week.

Master Sgt. Coleman also had been stationed in South Korea, Australia, the Philippines, Thailand, Fort Bragg, N.C., and most recently, Fort Lewis.

He joined the Army's special forces in 1999, training at Fort Bragg, where he learned to speak Thai, his wife said.

The family spent two years in Perth, Australia, when Master Sgt. Coleman was in a foreign-exchange program.

He was eligible for full retirement in 2008 but re-enlisted for five more years. The couple had been discussing another five, putting him on track for a 30-year career.

Master Sgt. Coleman's awards and decorations include the Meritorious Service Medal, the Army Commendation Medal, the Army Achievement Medal, and many others. He was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star Medal and the Purple Heart.

The public memorial will be at 2 p.m. in Goldendale, though the family has not yet determined an exact location.

Arrangements are by Columbia Hills Memorial Chapel in Goldendale.

Seattle Times staff reporter Janet I. Tu contributed to this report.

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