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Classmates shocked by soldier's death

5/19/2013

By RANDY GONZALES

rgonzales@dailynews.net

OAKLEY -- Megan Stephenson, who had hoped to re-connect with a good friend at a class reunion this summer, instead only will have memories.

Sgt. 1st Class Trenton L. Rhea, 33, originally from Oakley and a resident of Liberty. Mo., died Wednesday while deployed to Kandahar Province, Afghanistan. The Department of Defense said Rhea was attempting to cross a body of water during combat operations when he drowned.

Stephenson, like Rhea, was a 1998 graduate of Oakley High School.

"We are having a reunion in July," said Stephenson, who said she hadn't seen Rhea in approximately six years. "I was just saying, 'I hope that Trent can come,' because I hadn't seen him in so long. ... Then, just within a couple weeks, this happened.

"It reminds you that you need to keep relationships, stay in touch with people."

Rhea was someone who was "very into history, which is what I remember about him the most; he loved researching the presidents," Stephenson said.

"He was a good friend to everyone, good listener," Stephenson said. "He had a very strong faith in God.

"He was quite a guy, a very dear friend."

Rhea's wife, Leah, said in a statement Saturday her husband was "the nicest guy you would ever meet."

Rhea, a member of the 603rd Military Police Company, 530th Military Police Battalion, 300th Military Police Brigade, 200th Military Police Command, U.S. Army Reserve, was deployed three times oversees, to U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay, Iraq and Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, his assignment was to train the Afghan Police Force. Rhea was awarded several military honors, including the Bronze Star Medal, Meritorious Service Medal, Army Commendation Medal and Army Achievement Medal.

Rhea is survived by his wife, Leah; and three daughters, Autumn, Joanna and Abigail; his father, Marshall; his mother, Rebecca; twin brother Travis; sister Samantha Repshire; stepmother Julie; stepbrother Jody Kruse; stepsister Jade Kruse; grandmother Eileen Rhea; grandfather Kenny Breeden; and his in-laws, Harlan and Lynn Reid.

Funeral services for Rhea had not been finalized as of Saturday. They will be in Sedalia, Mo., with burial in LaMonte, Mo.

Gov. Sam Brownback issued a statement on Rhea's death: "On behalf of the citizens of Kansas, Lt. Governor (Jeff) Colyer and I offer our condolences to Sgt. 1st Class Rhea's family and friends for their loss. Sgt. 1st Class Rhea will always be remembered for his service by the American people. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends during this dark time."

Kelly Rummel, who also was in the same class as Rhea in high school, was struggling with his friend's death, someone he has known since kindergarten. Rummel called Rhea a good, Christian soldier.

"I've been searching for words to describe a friend for 20 years," Rummel said. "Not the easiest thing."

Stephenson said Oakley residents were finding it difficult once they heard the news.

"It has been very tough," she said. "You just don't think it's going to affect anyone you know. It's been hard."

Stephenson said her friend's joining the military was not a surprise to her.

"He was very patriotic," she said.