An Illinois Guardsman of 11 years from south suburban Riverdale who died while taking a physical fitness test was a role model who worked hard to provide for his four young daughters, colleagues said.
Sgt. 1st Class Jerome W. Baker, 29, of the Illinois Army National Guard was running for his semiannual fitness test Friday when he stopped during a two-mile trek at a Michigan training center and sat down.
Realizing he needed help, Baker's colleagues called 911. He was en route to Sparrow Hospital in Lansing, Mich., when he died, according to a spokesman for the Illinois Guard. An official cause of death has not been given.
"Jerome served with the Illinois National Guard for 11 years building a reputation as an intelligent noncommissioned officer and mentor," said Brig. Gen. Daniel M. Krumrei, the guard's adjutant general, in a statement. "He was well-respected and admired by his fellow soldiers, subordinates and leaders."
Baker joined the service at 18 but was not like other young soldiers, said Kevin Bonds, a master sergeant who knew him well. Baker was focused and knowledgeable and could work in all kinds of situations, he said.
"He said one of the biggest things was he just wanted to be a great father to his children," said Bonds, who worked alongside Baker for a few years. "As far as the military was concerned, he just wanted to be a good leader."
Outside of work, Baker liked to rap. It started out as a hobby but became a passion over time as Baker performed and shot videos that featured his rhymes. He often talked about pursuing rap as a career after the military, Bonds said.
A full-time soldier, Baker did two tours in Germany, according to the guard.
He received a promotion almost a year ago to noncommissioned officer in charge of readiness for Company G, 634th Brigade Support Battalion, 33rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team. He oversaw the day-to-day operations of his unit, which maintained military vehicles and trailers, Bonds said.
When young black men needed guidance or someone to look up to, Bonds said, he would always point them to Baker, who loved his job and was good at it.
"A lot of time you hear people say, 'This person was one of the good ones.' Jerome was definitely one of the good ones," Bonds said. "This is a huge, huge loss."
Funeral arrangements are pending.