Back in school, Christopher L. Hoskins was always stepping in to help classmates who were being mistreated by other kids, neglected by family or ignored by teachers.

At 6-foot-3, he was the tallest in his class at Killingly High School in Killingly, Conn., but family members said he was among the most invisible, working behind the scenes to help mend the lives of those who needed it most.

Hoskins, 21, an Army specialist, was trying to do the same thing in Iraq, helping Iraqis create a free and democratic society, they said.

His efforts were cut short June 21 while his unit was conducting combat operations in Ramadi. Hoskins was caught in the line of machine-gun fire and killed. Spec. Brian A. "Alex" Vaughn, 23, of Pell City, Ala., also died. Both soldiers were assigned to the 1st Battalion, 9th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 2nd Infantry Division, Fort Carson, Colo.

Yesterday, Hoskins's family gathered at Arlington National Cemetery to honor the son and brother they said found purpose and belonging in the military.

"Christopher was the boy next door who grew up in your back yard, played on your trampoline, swam in your pool and came to your birthday parties," said his father, Richard Hoskins. "He wasn't extraordinary or unusual, but what he was was an American who grew up in this country understanding, maybe not consciously, that we really believe in democracy and doing good for people, and that's what he thought he was doing for the people in Iraq."

Hoskins was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star, Purple Heart and Good Conduct Medal.

Schoolwork was a challenge for Hoskins. He struggled with Tourette's syndrome and learning disabilities as a child. His decision to enlist in the Army was not a surprise to those who said he lacked direction after he graduated from high school in 2001. For a time, he worked odd jobs. In late 2002, some of his peers who had enlisted talked to him about the future.

"It helped him understand the military could benefit him," his father recalled. "He was ready."

After basic training, Hoskins was deployed to Korea, where he served for a year. His unit was transferred to Iraq in August. He reenlisted in May 2005.

"He felt the work he was doing in Iraq was very important," Richard Hoskins said. "He was proud to be there."

He was so proud that he felt guilty coming home on leave, concerned that his absence was making things harder for those he served with.

Christopher Hoskins's younger brother has a form of mental retardation, and family members say his unique view of world is helping them cope with the loss.

"He keeps us in the moment," Richard Hoskins said. "He was appropriately saddened by the loss of his brother, but he's taught us that you have to greet today with what today has to offer. You have to keep going."