RALEIGH, N.C. — Watching U.S. soldiers coming and going through Charlotte’s airport where he worked as a baggage screener, James McClamrock believed he heard God telling him to go, too.

“He wanted to be on the front line. He wanted to make a difference,” his mother, Susan McClamrock, said Thursday as she waited at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware for her son’s body to be returned to the U.S.

Pvt. McClamrock, 22, of Huntersville was one of two U.S. soldiers killed Tuesday at a military base near the city of Tuz Khormato, about 130 miles (210 kilometers) north of Baghdad, when an Iraqi soldier opened fire.

He and Sgt. Philip C. Jenkins, 26, of Decatur, Ind., were the first U.S. servicemen to die since President Barack Obama declared an end to combat operations in the country last week. McClamrock and Jenkins were assigned to the 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Stryker Advise and Assist Brigade, 25th Infantry Division, based in Schofield Barracks in Hawaii.

Nine other U.S. troops were wounded. The Iraqi Army soldier was killed. The shootings would not “affect our strong commitment to the mission of advising and assisting the Iraqi Security Forces,” the U.S. military in Iraq said in a statement.

There are nearly 50,000 American troops in Iraq as of Aug. 31, down from a high of 170,000. Those remaining are training Iraqi security forces, providing security for some State Department missions and helping the Iraqi forces hunt down insurgent groups. But they can be drawn into combat missions if Iraqi forces request their help.

James McClamrock was shot as he and other members of his unit were about to leave for a mission with some of the Iraqi forces they had trained, the military told his father, Mark McClamrock, pastor of Concord Associate Reform Presbyterian Church in Concord.

James, who was born in Columbia, S.C., took leave from his job working security for the federal Transportation Security Administration at Charlotte/Douglas International Airport to enlist in the Army, his mother said.

It was something he’d thought about doing at least since he met his wife four years ago. They’d been married for two years. He enlisted a year ago.

“He’s always had an interest in it as long as I’ve known him. But he’d been praying about it and he was like, ’I really feel like this is what God wants me to do,’” said his wife, Shannah, 23. “Who was I to stop that?”

James was so gung-ho, when he was at home in May before shipping off to Iraq he awoke before dawn, laced up his boots, shouldered a 60-pound backpack, and hit the road for a 10-mile run to keep from losing his physical edge, Susan McClamrock said.

She said her family was leaning on their faith to carry them through the loss.

“We have no doubt in our mind at all that we will see him again and that he’s in heaven. That doesn’t make it any easier for us missing him here on Earth, but it does relieve a lot of our worry because we know he’s OK,” Susan McClamrock said.