TAMPA — The Army was in Paul O. Cuzzupe II's genes.
Both his parents donned Army greens. He was born on the Army base at Fort Riley, Kan.
He knew he would follow in their footsteps someday, said his grandfather, David Allard.
It became official last year when the 2005 graduate of Armwood High School in Seffner enlisted. He went on to become an Army combat medic, and was deployed to Afghanistan less than two months ago.
"He wanted to help people," said Allard, of Plant City.
Early Sunday, Pfc. Cuzzupe, 23, died during combat operations there, Allard said.
He was killed in Akhtar-Mohammad-Khan of wounds sustained when insurgents attacked his unit with an improvised explosive device, the U.S Department of Defense said. He was assigned to the 3rd Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment in Vilseck, Germany.
On Monday night, Cuzzupe's mother, Annette Kirk, and his grandmother, Judy Allard, traveled to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, from where his body will be brought back home.
Cuzzupe's death came just a week after he was honored with the Army Commendation Medal for his efforts to save an Afghani child's life. The young child had lost both legs and an arm, and Cuzzupe did everything he could for the child but was unsuccessful, said his friend Jared Wilbur.
His higher-ups said he had gone above and beyond the call of duty, said Wilbur, 19, of Brandon.
"But that was just who he was."
Growing up in Seffner, Cuzzupe, the oldest of four kids, was known by friends as someone to turn to for advice.
"If someone was going to make a bad decision, he was always the voice of reason," said his friend and former bandmate Robert Wisniewski of Port Richey.
He also was the one who knew music. "When it came to a lot of things, he was a perfectionist, but especially his music," said Wisniewski, 24.
Cuzzupe learned to play guitar and formed a rock band with some friends. They called themselves the Seed.
He would talk music theory, write out the notes and make sure the sound was just right, Wisniewski said.
After high school, Cuzzupe attended Saint Leo University, missing graduation by just one semester, his grandfather said. He had wanted to become a high school history teacher, but his passion for the Army led him away from that path, Allard said.
He felt like it was a family tradition, Wisniewski said.
"It was always something that made him proud."
Several weeks after he was deployed, Cuzzupe told friends on Facebook how much he missed them.
"I want everyone back home to know that I am sorry if I have not been getting back to everyone in a timely fashion," he wrote. "I am in a very dangerous and bad place right now. I only have so much time, and a lot of people to talk to. I love and miss you all. When things calm down I will be contacting everyone that I am able to."
Then, about two weeks ago, Cuzzupe called his grandparents at 4 a.m.
"He said he was worried and concerned because of the conditions over there," Allard said, "but he knew he had a job to do."