Spc. Ember Alt wanted to serve her country and fight for it.
The idea of deploying to Afghanistan excited her.
“But I was scared for her, we all were. We were scared for her,” said Alt’s stepmother, Jennifer Owens, whom Alt knew as ‘Mommy’ from the time she was 2 years old.
“She was happy, kind of excited and scared at the same time, but she was excited about doing it.”
The 2009 graduate of Killeen High School deployed just before Thanksgiving for her first overseas assignment.
The 21-year-old was among the four U.S. service members killed by indirect enemy fire June 18 at Bagram Airfield.
Her father, Charles Alt Jr., already in Afghanistan as a civilian contractor, escorted the body of his oldest daughter to Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Md., on Friday.
“It’s so amazing and great and, at the same time, so sad that her father got to escort her home (to the United States),” Owens said.
After processing, Ember Alt’s remains will return to Killeen to be laid to rest.
Alt, who ran track at Killeen High School, was assigned to the 68th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion, 43rd Sustainment Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, Fort Carson, Colo.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack that killed Alt and two others in her unit. Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said June 19 that militants fired two rockets into the airfield.
Alt was living along the Georgia and South Carolina border when she entered the Army in 2011 and entered her home of record as Beech Island, S.C. She was awarded the Army Achievement Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and an Army Service Ribbon.
Alt ran the 300-meter hurdles and the first leg of the Lady Roos’ 1,600-meter relay team that finished seventh at the University Interscholastic League State Track and Field Championships in 2009. Alt called the relay team the “Fantastic 4-by-4,” in an interview with the Herald that year.
“I think it (the Army) was a good fit for Ember,” said former Killeen girls track coach Leah Cannon. “She wasn’t for sure what else she wanted to do. She was a very loving person. Always had hugs for everyone. I could see her serving her country and giving everything she had like she did here in school.
“This is last thing I ever thought about,” Cannon added. “When kids join, you just don’t think about (this happening). I know you should, but I never thought about that for Ember.”
Even after she graduated, she could be found at the track, running and talking with former teammates and encouraging the new girls on the team. “She was just that kind of kid, just a really sweet, helpful kid, who enjoyed sports — loved hurdling — and loved track and field,” Cannon said. “She would come up when she had a moment and just run with the kids just to kind of still be a part of it.”
Alt planned to fulfill her service agreement and then go to school, likely in music, Owens said. Though, the longer she spent in the Army, the more and more her family believes she might have made it a career.
Before Alt deployed, Owens and Alt’s younger sister, Kayla, drove to Colorado for a farewell get-together. They visited Breckenridge and the Cave of the Winds in Colorado Springs.
“I watched her pack up some of her stuff, sat and chit-chatted. The next morning, we got up early and drove up to the mountains — it was just so much fun,” Owens said. “We got up there, took lots of pictures. Got on the gondola and went up to the lodge ... just sat outside and watched the kids and the other people skiing, talked about plans of when she comes back.
“That’s what I’ve talked to her sister about is that we have to remember that,” Owens added, “that last time. We’ve got to have that. (I’m) so very, very thankful that I got that time. Words can’t even express.”