At services Sunday morning in the small Baptist church near her home, Sgt. Greg Pennington's mother asked her friends and neighbors to pray for her son, who was with the Army in Baghdad.

On Monday morning, a call came to the family home in the community of Konnarock, near Interstate 81 in far southwestern Virginia.

It was Greg's wife, Janet. Greg Pennington, described by those who knew him as a "wonderful guy," had been killed that day. His father, Aulbin, took the call.

"It was awful," said a neighbor, Franklin D. McCoy.

The Pentagon announced yesterday that Pennington, 36, died Monday when his camp came under mortar attack.

He was assigned to the 7th Cavalry Regiment of the 1st Cavalry Division, based at Fort Hood in Texas, according to the Department of Defense.

The Army said that the attack occurred in north-central Baghdad, and that six soldiers and a contract worker were wounded.

Robert Blevins, a neighbor of the family, called the sergeant "a really great Christian guy." Pennington was "willing to help anyone," Blevins said.

In Damascus, Va., Pennington went to Holston High School, which has a special page on its Web site that lists 11 alumni in the armed forces, two of them in Iraq. After high school, where he was a wrestler, Pennington joined the Army. Records show that he went on active duty in February 1986.

He left the Army in the 1990s and returned to southwestern Virginia, where he worked for a time before deciding to reenlist.

"I guess he felt like the country was calling him to come back in," Blevins said.

Pennington's mother, Catherine, who is known by her middle name, Jewel, told worshipers Sunday at Azen Baptist Church that she had heard from him.

"She said he had called from Baghdad and said he was okay, not to worry about him," Blevins recounted.

Although Greg Pennington had not lived in the community for years, "they'd always request a prayer" for him, said Blevins, who also attends the church.

He said it was an emotional time, with feelings intensified by the fact that his Sunday school class had been making up care packages for Pennington that were to be mailed yesterday.

McCoy said Pennington was "just good to everybody. He loved everybody, and everybody loved him."

"A prince of a man," McCoy said.

Neighbors said the sergeant, whose family goes back for generations in far southwestern Virginia, had two brothers and a sister.