A Schuylkill County community is mourning the tragic loss of a special forces soldier killed in Afghanistan.
Captain Jason Jones, originally of Orwigsburg, died Monday in a "small-arms fire fight," according to the Department of Defense.
"I'm a man of faith, and I dare say, if Jason's not in Heaven, there is no Heaven. That's the kind of person he was," said Eric Mika, a close friend of the family.
Mika spoke with 69 News hours before he was preparing to travel to Dover Air Force Base with Jones' family on Wednesday to await arrival of the fallen soldier's body.
Mika described Jones, 29, as a "dream son."
"He's second to none... very respectful, honorable... couldn't ask for a better person," said Mika.
Others who knew Jones agreed.
"You could go to him for anything that you ever needed. That's the kind of person Jason was. He was a front line man. He was an outstanding role model," said Nick Marrongelle, who was a classmate and soccer teammate of Jones' at Blue Mountain High School.
"He was exemplary. He was everything we want in a Blue Mountain student," said Principal Kevin Berger, who said the school hopes to add Jones' name to a memorial for fallen heroes outside of the school. He said developing an additional memorial, or a scholarship fund in Jones' name, are also potentials.
School officials said Jones graduated with honors from Blue Mountain in 2003 before attending West Point Military Academy. There, Jones graduated sixth in his class with a degree in nuclear engineering.
"Jason had a skill-set that probably could have taken him anywhere to do anything, and as Americans, I think we're really fortunate that he chose to serve his country," said Orwigsburg Mayor Barry Berger.
Upon learning of his death, Berger and borough Manager Mike Lonergen requested that borough businesses and residents display flags or lower flags to half staff.
"As you drive through town, you can see more and more of them on people's porches and even some of the factories," said Lonergen.
In other areas throughout the borough, those honoring Jones placed flowers and photos around a downtown war memorial.
Lonergen said borough officials were planning to adopt a resolution in honor of Jones' at their evening meeting Wednesday.
"We're a small town. We gather around each other and support each other," said Lonergen. "It's just tragic."
Jones is survived by his parents, a sister and wife. Mika told 69 News that Jones had been married for just under one year.
He and his wife lived in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, near Fort Bragg, where Jones was commander of a Special Forces A-Team. He deployed in April of this year.
The deployment was his second; he had previously served overseas in Iraq. His performance earned him a bronze star.
"It's a tragic loss for the Blue Mountain community, for Schuylkill County, and our nation," said Marrongelle.
A memorial service is planned for Jones at 1 p.m. Saturday at the First United Methodist Church in Pottsville.