On his days off, Lt. Col. James J. Walton liked to parachute out of airplanes and bike long distances - once embarking on a weeklong trek from Richmond, Va., to Lexington, Ky.
The career soldier, who relatives said never complained about two deployments and whose fourth wedding anniversary would have been tomorrow, was killed Saturday in Kandahar, Afghanistan. He was 41.
As a member of an Army Military Transition Team, Colonel Walton trained Afghan soldiers. It was a job he enjoyed, although he often reported to his family about its front-line danger, his father-in-law, Joseph Moschler, said yesterday.
He was killed when his convoy encountered a roadside bomb and small-arms fire, according to the Defense Department.
"He was there to train the Afghan military, and he looked forward to it, he believed in it and he cared about it," said Mr. Moschler, of Midlothian, Va. "He was the most dedicated man to his job I have ever known."
Colonel Walton was a Rockville native and West Point graduate.
Several years ago, he was deployed to Iraq. Upon his return, he joined the Military Transition Team, 1st Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, based at Fort Riley, Kan. He was deployed to Afghanistan in December.
"As a youngster, he set his sights early on West Point," said his sister, Kyle Cottrell, who is a retired lieutenant colonel in the Marines. "There was a feeling in my family: To whom much is given, much is expected. The manner in which we chose to do that was in the military. It was an avenue to which we could give something back to a country that gave so much to us."
The family learned of Colonel Walton's death during a reunion at a beach in Virginia, his sister said.
"It has been a blessing that we could all be together and share laughter and tears," she said.
They have shared stories of "Jimmy," the second-youngest of five children, a standout on the diving team at West Point, an optimistic "born leader" who was always trying something adventurous, from rock climbing and rappelling to flying.
In photos, he stood out. He was the tall and sturdy one with a bald head and - always - a huge grin, she said.
Colonel Walton had a pilot's license and belonged to a club where he could rent small planes from time to time, taking his father-in-law on rides.
He was an enthusiastic paratrooper, logging more than 5,000 jumps, Mr. Moschler said. Upon retirement, he hoped to join the Golden Knights, an Army parachuting team based at Fort Bragg, N.C.
His wife, Sarah Moschler Walton, shared her husband's love of athletics. The two met at an Arlington, Va., fitness club five years ago, dating a year before they married. The couple settled in Arlington, and Colonel Walton worked at the Pentagon.
Mr. Moschler said he approved of him instantly.
"I thought he was the most wonderful young man I have ever known in my life," he said. "I loved him just like my own."
Colonel Walton was deployed twice during his marriage, and he and his wife made the most of their time together, often going hiking and running, Mr. Moschler said. The two loved animals, volunteered at animal-rescue facilities and had a pet cat and a dog, a mutt named Hannibal that they had rescued from abuse.
They also planned to adopt a child, Mr. Moschler said.
"She was with us when she learned of this Saturday night, and of course it hit her like a bolt of lightning," Mr. Moschler said of his daughter. "She was hysterical, even though she was half-prepared for it.
"Sarah knew that Jim was a professional soldier, and she never complained about it," her father said. "Of course she wanted him home, but she understood his first obligation was his country, and she never complained."
And Colonel Walton believed in his work.
"He told me one of the last times I talked to him, 'I think the Lord put me on this earth for a special purpose - to help people who can't help themselves. That's why I'm here, and that's what I intend to do,' " Mr. Moschler remembered him saying. "He was the most unassuming, humble man I ever knew. He never wanted to draw attention to himself."