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Lieutenant liked training Afghans


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POSTED: Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Navy Lt. j.g. Francis "Frank" Toner IV enjoyed training Afghan soldiers since October, even when trying to teach them to play baseball, his family said.

His aunt, Linda Mooskian, told the Ventura County Star that in one of his last e-mails, Toner included some videos and pictures of him working with Afghan soldiers. He obscured one man's identity because he was worried about the Afghan's safety.

In the e-mail, Toner said, "There are still hundreds of recruits for both the police and army, almost on a weekly basis. This shows the insurgents are not having as much impact on the local communities."

Toner, 26, and Navy nurse Lt. Florence B. Choe, 35, of El Cajon, Calif., were killed Friday by an Afghan National Army soldier at Camp Shaheen at Mazar-e-Sharif in northern Afghanistan. The Navy said the Afghan soldier wounded another U.S. service member before taking his own life.

The Pentagon said the shooting is under investigation.

Toner graduated from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy in 2006 and was assigned as a civil engineer two years later to the Naval Facilities Engineering Command Hawaii at Pearl Harbor.

Last June, Toner left Pearl Harbor to participate in the Navy's one-year Individual Mobilization Augmentation program and was sent to Afghanistan in October to help train Afghan soldiers.

Capt. Bret J. Muilenburg, commanding officer of Naval Facilities Engineering Command Hawaii, said Toner was "an exceptional young man and naval officer. He made a great difference while in Afghanistan just as he did while serving in Hawaii. Those he touched during his life will never forget his smile, sense of humor, competitive spirit, outstanding work ethic and love of country."

His father, Frank Toner III, told the Providence Journal that his son was supposed to come home on leave this week. He had planned to rejoin his wife, Brooke, in Pocatello, Idaho, where she was staying with her relatives.

He dreamed of returning to Rhode Island, where he could work buying and selling rehabbed homes, his father added. "He'll be sorely missed."

In letters and phone calls, he always asked for things for the Afghan children.

"He couldn't believe the poverty," his stepmother, Sharon Toner, told the New Jersey newspaper. "He'd see kids who weren't in school or who were improperly dressed, and his heart went out to them."

Toner was the first Hawaii-based service member to die in Afghanistan this year. Since 2004 there have been 32 military members with ties to Hawaii to die in Afghanistan, eight of them in the Navy. The family plans to bury him at Arlington National Cemetery.