When Army Staff Sgt. Alex Viola graduated from Keller High School in 2002, topping his list of what to do with his life was to serve in an elite military unit.
His mother, Margaret Viola, said Monday that she and her husband, Frank, urged their son to get a college education first and then “go in as an officer.”
He followed their advice and earned an engineering degree from the University of North Texas. Then he entered the Navy, was accepted for SEAL training, but he was injured during “hell week,” she said.
Sgt. Viola refused to give up and re-entered the military, but not as officer. He became an engineer sergeant with U.S. Army Special Forces.
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Sgt. Viola, 29, was mortally wounded Sunday in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, by an improvised explosive device, the Defense Department announced Monday.
It was his first deployment, and he had been there for five weeks, his mother said.
“He was on foot patrol,” she said in a phone interview. “The only thing we were told was that it happened yesterday morning, and it’s under investigation.
“They took him to a hospital in Kandahar where he died. Now we’re going to Dover, Del., to pick him up.”
Margaret Viola said her son was born in New York, but the family moved to Keller when he was 9. He was active in sports, but he especially liked hockey and played on a combined team for Keller and Fossil Ridge high schools.
Sgt. Viola graduated from UNT in four years, she said.
His drive to be in the military intensified when he didn’t get into the SEALS.
“He didn’t want to stop there, so he transferred and got his green beret,” she said. “It was like he didn’t want any regrets and he just wanted to finish what he started.
“At first we were nervous and we tried to talk him into getting a normal job, but he didn’t want it.
“So, we supported him.”
Sgt. Viola joined the Army National Guard in June 2009 and began Special Forces training in April 2010 at Fort Bragg, N.C. He graduated from Special Forces qualification course in June 2011 and was assigned to the 19th Special Forces Group at Camp Williams, Utah.
In March 2013 he was assigned to 7th Special Forces Group at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.
According to the U.S. Army Special Forces Command, Sgt. Viola earned several awards and decorations, including the Army Achievement Medal, the Parachutist Badge, the Combat Infantryman Badge and the Special Operations Dive Badge.
“He was just a great guy and I’m not saying that because I’m his mother,” Margaret Viola said. “This is what he wanted to do, and he kept trying and training.
“We were just in awe of him, his drive to do that.”
Other survivors include his older sister, Christina, his mother said.
Funeral arrangements were incomplete on Monday.