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Michael V. Bailey of Waldorf, who wanted to make people proud of him and believed it was sometimes hard to do that in civilian life, decided that he would enlist in the Army.
" 'It's the only way I can see that I can make something of myself,' " Gladys K. Wilborn, an older friend and neighbor, recalled him saying.
Pvt. Michael V. Bailey, 20, died Friday at Camp Salerno, Afghanistan, from injuries not related to combat, the Pentagon announced yesterday.
Bailey was assigned to the 4th Battalion, 25th Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division (light infantry), based in Fort Drum, N.Y., the Pentagon said. The death was under investigation, according to the Pentagon.
About a year and a month ago, Sierra Washington met Bailey at the St. Charles mall. They hit it off.
"He was my fiancé," she said last night. They talked constantly by telephone. The last time they spoke, she said, was Wednesday.
"He sounded very good, as usual," she said. The conversation was "nothing out of the normal."
He "told me how much he loved me," she said. But that was not surprising. "He tells me that all the time."
Washington said she did not know the details of how he died. "It hurts to not know what happened to my baby," she said. "I feel like I need to know."
Friends and neighbors in the Pine Field neighborhood of northern Charles County remembered Bailey as intelligent, good-humored and concerned about the feelings of others.
As far back as when they attended John Hanson Middle School, Josh Batschelet said, Bailey "seemed to want to make you feel good and boost your self-esteem," although not in an overt or overbearing way.
"He was a good kid," said Brandon Frere, who rode the school bus to John Hanson with Bailey.
Wilborn, to whom Bailey was particularly close, said he used to call her "Aunt Gladys."
He was especially fond, she recalled, of her chocolate chip cookies. "Anything home-cooked, he loved," she said.
She called him a happy person who laughed and "made you laugh along with him."
Bailey enlisted in the Army "to better himself," she said. He "just figured he would do better if he could go into the service."
He liked the Army, Washington said. "He enjoyed it. He enjoyed the challenge." She last saw him about three months ago. It was at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, when he and his unit shipped out for Afghanistan.
Bailey enlisted in the Army in January 2006 and trained at Fort Sill, Okla., to be an artilleryman. Following basic and advanced individual training, he was assigned to Fort Drum in July 2006.
He deployed to Afghanistan in August 2006 and served with the fire direction section at Forward Operating Base Salerno.
His awards and decorations include the Army Commendation Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Army Service Ribbon and the Overseas Service Ribbon.
He is survived by his parents. Bailey's parents said last night that they were not ready to speak publicly about the death.