By the time he was in middle school, Kyle Wright of Romeoville knew he wanted to join the U.S. Army.
"He decided when he was sitting in a classroom watching the Twin Towers fall," said his father, Richard Wright.
The 22-year-old solider was killed Wednesday in Afghanistan's Kandahar province after driving over a 250-pound roadside bomb, his father said.
Wright joined the Army after graduating from Romeoville High School in 2006, and was based in Fort Lewis, Wash., where he met his fiancee.
He quickly became fluent in Arabic after the Army placed him in the Defense Language Institute. Richard Wright said his son was selected for his high aptitude and was immersed in Arabic 10 hours a day for a year.
"They took the smartest guys they had and he excelled," Wright said. "His writing in Arabic was like artwork."
Kyle Wright was on a Stryker Brigade Combat Team and was driving an armored vehicle when it rolled over the explosive. He was on his first combat tour, where his team worked to fight drug and weapons trafficking.
Shortly before his death, Wright e-mailed his parents to share stories about a 6,000-pound drug and weapons seizure his team completed, which was reported on CNN.
"His message said 'This was us, on our own, with a couple of helicopters,'" Richard Wright said. "He was on the front, cutting edge of this whole war effort."
After the bomb exploded under the driver's seat, Wright was pulled from the wreckage where he died surrounded by military friends, his father said.
He will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
"I don't know what people's stereotypes are of a quote/unquote grunt soldier, but he was the toughest, smartest, bravest man, and I don't just say that because he's my son," said Wright. "He was the very, very best."