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The last time John Armato saw his friend and triathlon partner Job Price, the two men went on a training run through the forest, then jumped into a creek and continued to run until it got too deep and they shifted to swimming.
That day last summer in Pennsylvania, they ran and swam and ran and swam some more, having what Armato -- 23 years Price's senior -- called "a really good time challenging one another."
A week later, Price left on deployment to Uruzgan province in northern Afghanistan, where he was commanding a team of SEALs based in Virginia Beach.
"One of the last things we talked about had to do with how proud he was of the men he was leading," Armato said. "He had just a tremendous amount of admiration (for them)."
Price, 42, a Navy commander, died Saturday in what the Defense Department described as "a noncombat-related injury." The Associated Press and other news agencies reported that his death was being investigated as a possible suicide.
Famously secretive, the SEALs don't talk about their missions -- or their losses. But Armato, contacted in Price's hometown of Pottstown, Pa., where his parents still live, described watching a talented young man grow into a dedicated leader.
Price came into Armato's life as a boy on the wrestling team that Armato coached at Pottstown High School and quickly defined himself as a talented athlete who inspired his teammates with an unyielding will to succeed and an ability to make people laugh.
His friend remembers it as a magnetic combination.
"He was always the guy to come up with the words that would bring a smile to everyone's face regardless of what the situation was," Armato said.
"Some of the characteristics that made Job an outstanding athlete and someone his peers looked up to are the same qualities that led him to successfully complete the Air Force Academy and become a Navy SEAL and rise in the ranks of the military."
After Price left high school and went on to the Air Force Academy, he stayed in touch with his coach and visited him when he came back to town.
One summer, Price joined the coach on a running and swimming workout. During the run, Armato said, Price told him he planned to join the SEALs.
Then they jumped in the pool. Price could barely swim a 50-yard lap, Armato said.
"I said, 'You understand that if you want to be in the SEALs, this is something you will have to learn,' " Armato said. "He said, 'Coach, I will do that.' "
"Within a year, we swam competitions together, and he beat me out of the water," he said. "Wherever he encountered obstacles, he was determined and very focused.... He was always up for the next challenge."
Price became a Navy SEAL, graduating from Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training in 1993, according to his biography, posted by the Pottstown School District when he became an alumni Honor Roll member in 2011.
He got married. He deployed twice to Panama, then to Spain, Germany and Kosovo and several times to the Middle East after 9/11 in support of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. He deployed in Bahrain. Most recently, he assumed command of members of SEAL Team 4.
He won numerous medals, including two Bronze Stars. He became a father.
Armato wouldn't ask him about his life with the SEALs. It was off-limits, and he respected that.
"I don't know what his life was like, or what a SEAL's life is like or a military person's life is like -- when you spend 20 years preparing to be deployed or being deployed where you spend every day in a place none of us would want to be in," Armato said.
"He was very clear about this with me: It was important to do something that was bigger than the person.... My perception is to do that for 20 years -- that's asking a lot from anyone, and only the most dedicated and most committed are doing that. That's who he was. From day one."
On Tuesday, Price came home for the last time. His wife, Stephanie, and his parents, Harry and Nancy Price, were at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware for the arrival.
"His mom and pop had to spend Christmas bringing their son's coffin home," Armato said.
"Losing him -- no matter how -- the end result is, he's still gone," he said. "The end result is: His wife no longer has a husband that's going to come home. His daughter no longer has a father that's going to help raise her. And I no longer have a companion that I could feel very closely connected to."
|Navy SEALs Afghanistan|