U.S. Army Spc. Garrett Fant scored so high on his military entrance exam that he could have done any job in the armed forces, even those that would have kept him out of the line of fire.
But the 21-year-old, who dreamed of serving in the Army as early as 5 years old, would not have it.
He chose to become an infantryman to serve his country, said his mother, South Lake Tahoe resident Julie Towle Farrell, on Wednesday.
The choice was a source of pride for Fant and made him a "soldier's soldier," said Renee Marie, a Captain with the California Army National Guard.
The decision would also have a heartbreaking end. Fant was killed by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan on Sept. 26.
Fant's body was brought back to South Lake Tahoe late Wednesday night. Fant was laid to rest at Happy Homestead Cemetery Friday afternoon.
The plane carrying Fant's body landed in Reno about 8:30 p.m. Wednesday.
His arrival was witnessed by family and friends, as well as law enforcement officers from California and Nevada who escorted Fant's body to South Lake Tahoe, closing off intersections along the way to allow a procession of cars carrying family and friends to pass.
About two dozen mourners gathered at McFarlane Mortuary to witness Fant's homecoming. His U.S. flag-draped coffin arrived in South Lake Tahoe about 11 p.m.
Prior to the change in flight plans, Farrell spoke to the Tribune about her son.
Fant could be both goofy and serious, sensitive and happy-go-lucky, she said. He was unfailingly devoted to those around him.
"If you were Garrett's friend or family, he loved you with everything he had and gave you everything he had," Farrell said.
Following his military career, Fant planned to return to South Lake Tahoe to start a family. The soldier hoped to become a history teacher at South Tahoe High School, his alma mater.
"His idea was high school was your last chance to make an impression on people," Farrell said.
Fant was deeply proud of his service in the military. Farrell said she will never say the U.S. should not be in Afghanistan because her son believed in the war's mission.
"They want to make it safe for all of us to be here, so they go and that's why they are there," Farrell said.
Still, she said she would do anything to prevent even one family from going through the same pain.
"They need to come home," Farrell said.
She recalled the joy of her family's last Christmas together this past December. Fant's brother, James Keough, is a U.S. Navy airman and is scheduled for deployment at the beginning of November.
Fant deployed to Afghanistan in March and the family knew it would be their last Christmas together for quite some time.
The holiday included the traditional early wake up for presents under the tree and a visit from Santa Claus for Farrell's three-year-old granddaughter. The family took a portrait together for the first time in years.
The happiness of the holiday has taken on a special meaning following Fant's passing, Farrell said.
"It's almost like the universe was doing something we didn't even know," Farrell said.
She said she's looking forward to Keough's upcoming marriage and more grandchildren in the future, but said she doesn't know where she'll go from here.
"Our lives will never be the same," Farrell said. "Garrett was my baby. You can never lose part of your heart and ever be right."
Fant was scheduled to return from his deployment to Afghanistan on Feb. 3. The last time Farrell spoke with her son was in late August. The soldier, like always, reassured her everything would be all right.
"My last conversation with him was, 'I love you, Mom. I'm coming home.'"