HUGER - Girard "Jerry" Gass Jr.'s dream ever since he was a small boy was to serve in the military.

But it didn't happen until he was 28.

It came after college football, where he was an offensive lineman at Gardner-Webb University. And it came long after graduation, when he spent his early-to-mid-20s as an insurance adjuster.

But when a friend told him that a military path was still open in the elite Green Berets, he took the leap.

His father said Wednesday that Gass died earlier this week doing the job he wanted.

"From an early age, Jerry just wanted to be something," Girard Gass Sr. said. "He wanted to be something like a Navy SEAL or Green Beret."

Staff Sgt. Gass, 33, died in Afghanistan on Sunday of noncombat related injuries in Nangarhar Province, his father said.

The elder Gass said he's been told his son was part of a foot patrol when he collapsed and lost consciousness.

His remains were returned to the military re-entry point at Dover Air Force Base, Del. The cause of death is under investigation.

Gass was with Company C, 1st Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) out of Fort Bragg, N.C. He is survived by his widow, Nancy, and two children, Charlie, 2, and Stella, 1. The couple married in 2011.

This was Gass' second deployment to Afghanistan. He enlisted in 2008.

While media releases listed his residence as North Carolina, the family roots remain in Huger.

He was a four-year starter in football at Hanahan High School, earning All-Region AA honors three times and was an All-Lowcountry selection his senior season.

"Very few people made me laugh as much as he did," said classmate Daniel Poulos.

After high school, Gass attended Gardner-Webb in Boiling Springs, N.C., where he played in back-to-back Big South Conference championship games in 2002 and 2003.

Whatever his son tried "he put everything into it," his father said.

Gass joined the Army late in life, at 28, an age which Gass' father said gave him a leg up in terms of maturity and facing difficult military tasks.

"It took a lot of work, but he put his mind to it that he would do it," Gass Sr. said. But he added that his son spoke little of the specifics of what he was doing in Afghanistan or while on his Green Beret missions.

"I knew they were working against the Taliban," he said. He also was a senior medic.

Lt. Col. Patrick O'Hara, Gass' battalion commander, said he was an exceptional Green Beret.

"He made the ultimate sacrifice for what he loved, and we are all proud, honored, and humbled to have known him, and will always cherish the time we all served together," O'Hara said.

Gass' awards and decorations include two Bronze Star Medals, the Army Commendation Medal with "V" device for valor, and the Army Achievement Medal. His second Bronze Star and the Meritorious Service Medal were awarded posthumously.

Funeral plans are pending but the family says he will be buried in the U.S. military cemetery in Beaufort.

"He enriched any life he's touched," the father said.

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551.