Described by family and friends as a young man passionate about the military and also finding world peace, American Canyon soldier Garrett A. Fant, 21, died Monday doing what he loved -- serving in the U.S. Army.

Fant died Monday after a hidden bomb detonated in southern Afghanistan while deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, according to a U.S. Army announcement.

"He was doing what he wanted to be doing," said Fant's uncle, Anthony Fant, who shared the same birthday as his nephew.

"It's a crying shame this country has to be in this situation but young men are what we need to be over there," his uncle said.

On patrol in the Helmand Province, Fant died of his wounds when a roadside IED (Improvised Explosive Device) blew up.

He was assigned to the 4th Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Heavy Brigade Combat team, 1st Infantry Division in Fort Riley, Kansas.

Other soldiers were present when Fant was killed but information on whether they were injured was not immediately available, said Army Staff Sgt. Nathaniel Smith, with the 1st Infantry Division's Public Affairs Office.

A 2008 graduate of Napa's Valley Oak High School, Fant left a strong impression in the close-knit continuation school, principal Maria Cisneros said.

"He was a well-liked and respected young man," Cisneros said. "We're saddened by such a huge loss."

Fant was quiet and a "deep thinker" who would often stay after school and have long conversations with his instructors about world events and how to achieve peace, Cisneros said.

After watching the movie "White Light Black Rain" about the World War II atomic bombs dropped in Japan, Fant was moved by the events and often spoke of a need for hope and peace, Cisneros said.

"He felt serving his country was a way to take responsibility for himself and his life. He went into the military to make things better," she said. "He was one of our hopeful ambassadors to give a message of peace over war."

His older brother James Keough, who is in the U.S. Navy, said Fant chose the continuation school so he could finish up faster and join the military as soon as possible. He enlisted on his 18th birthday.

Both he and his uncle said Fant dreamt about and showed a strong desire to join the Army early in life.

"He wanted to go into Army since he was a little kid. He would dress up in his little outfits and walk around and salute you," Fant said.

Under "Occupation," Fant proudly identified himself as a "grunt" in the United States Army.

"What's there to say? God loves the Infantry!," he wrote.

After growing up in Vallejo and American Canyon mostly in the home of his grandparents, Fant attended part of high school in South Lake Tahoe and lived briefly with his father in Arizona, his brother said.

Fant joined the Army in March 2009 as an indirect fire infantryman. This was his first deployment, according to the Army. He never talked about his personal beliefs about the war in Afghanistan, but concentrated on doing his job, Keough said.

His uncle said he last saw Fant a few months ago while he was on leave.

"We talked about how good the Army was and how much he loved it," he said.

Fant's awards include the Combat Infantryman's Badge, NATO Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal with one Campaign Star, and the Army Service Ribbon.

Military funeral services for Fant are pending and will be announced later.

Fants parents are Julie Farrell and John Fant. His sister is Shawna Farrell and he has a brother, Ricky Farrell.

American Canyon Mayor Leon Garcia said he was saddened to hear about Fant's death, and expressed condolences to the family.

"You go into that with commitment to your country and passion for serving and protecting the rights of Americans. It's a sacrifice we all recognize as part of that commitment. But it's a tragic moment when family suffers that kind of loss," Garcia said.

Fant's Army tour would have been up in February and he was undecided about making the military a career, said his brother. He had also expressed a desire to leave, go back to school and teach high school history.

"He was just trying to come home," Keough said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Reach staff writer Sarah Rohrs at srohrs@timesheraldonline.com or (707) 553-6832.