Ronald "Dougie" Freeman wanted to be the best.
Those who knew him already knew him as the best student, the best worker, the best brother. But he needed to prove it to himself. To do that, he had to become a Marine.
"He could have had anything he wanted," said his father, Brian Freeman. "But he wanted to go into the Marines."
On Thursday, Lance Cpl. Freeman of Plant City was killed in Afghanistan. He was 26.
A Department of Defense statement said he died while conducting combat operations for Operation Enduring Freedom in Helmand Province.
A minesweeper, Lance Cpl. Freeman got off a truck to search an area when one exploded, killing him, according to his family.
His father got a call late this week from defense officials. They wanted to talk with him face-to-face. As he got ready to meet them, he got another call from his daughter-in-law, who told him what the Marines had already told her.
"He didn't have no big ego about himself," his father said. "He just had it inside himself that he wanted to be the best."
A 2004 graduate of Plant City Senior High School, Lance Cpl. Freeman made good grades from elementary school through graduation, his family said.
"Everybody loved him and knew him in Plant City," said his sister, Melissa Brown, 25. "Growing up, I was always 'Dougie's sister,' even though I was older."
Standing 6-foot-1, he had a husky build, but was known as more of a studious kid than an athlete.
Aaron Freeman, 23, always looked up to his older brother, striving to follow in his footsteps. When "Dougie" played violin in the school band, his brother later learned to play the cello.
"He was a hero," his father said. "If anyone could be a hero, it was him."
Lance Cpl. Freeman is also survived by another sister, Jessica Freeman, 22. Their mother, Terra Freeman, died in 2006.
The idea to join the military lingered in his mind for a long time, his family said. He had nothing to prove to anyone else. It was for himself.
In 2008, he left his job as a machinist for a local pipe and valve company to enlist. He worked for half a year before that to get in shape — running for miles everyday to shed more than 100 pounds. On his way to training, he met the woman who became his wife, Katie Freeman.
After training, he served with the 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force in Camp Lejeune, N.C. In November 2009, he was promoted to lance corporal.
Not long after he became a Marine, he also became a father to a baby girl, Kaitlyn Michelle. When a baby son, William Douglas, was born April 18 — just 10 days before he was killed — he was already planning to forego a military career.
His new mission was to be the best father he could be.
Lance Cpl. Freeman was getting ready for it. He bought a new car for his wife and kids during a visit earlier this year. He deployed to Afghanistan in March — his first tour overseas — and planned to be done with the service next year.
"He wanted more and he wanted better," his father said. "When he joined up, he figured better was home. He could serve his country, do his tour and come home to his wife and kids.
"And now it's all over."
Times news researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Dan Sullivan can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3321.