HARTLAND — Tina Stratton spoke with her son, Pfc. Tyler M. Springmann, by phone on Saturday. He called in during a family reunion and spoke with everyone.

Springmann, 19, a 2010 Nokomis Regional High School graduate from Hartland, was stationed in Afghanistan. The young soldier had married his high school sweetheart earlier this year and was looking forward to coming home for leave in December.

“He was in a really good mood; he had a really good day,” Stratton recalled Tuesday. “He found a couple of roadside bombs before anyone could get hurt from them. … I loved hearing his voice. When I hear his voice, it always made me feel so much better.”

But it would be the last time Stratton heard her son’s voice — he was killed the next day.

The Department of Defense announced Tuesday that Springmann died in Kandahar province, Afghanistan, after he was struck by a roadside bomb on Sunday. Sgt. 1st Class Kenneth B. Elwell, 33, of Holland, Pa., was also killed by the bomb.

Stratton and Springmann’s step-dad, Ben Martin, said Tuesday afternoon they were in shock at losing a young son who was enjoying life. They had just returned home from Bangor International Airport after Stratton had flown out early Monday to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to watch Springmann’s remains ceremoniously taken off the plane.

Also in attendance was Springmann’s father, Robert Springmann, who is serving in the Army in Afghanistan and escorted his son’s remains back to the U.S., and Tyler’s wife of five and a half months, Brittney. The young couple did not have children.

Springmann has three siblings: brother William Springmann, in Texas; as well as brother Zachary, 14, and sister Keana, 9, who live in Hartland with Stratton and Martin.

Stratton, who goes by her maiden name, held back tears as she looked at photographs of her son in May at the Bangor airport, when he was in between transferring from his division in Alaska to Afghanistan. In the photo, a smiling Springmann is holding his newborn cousin.

That photo is a good illustration of how Springmann was happy doing what he wanted to do, fulfilling his dream, Stratton said.

“I was so proud of him,” she said. “He may not be here, but his spirit will always live on in my heart. He’ll always be my hero. He’ll always be my family’s hero.”

‘A very nice young man’

Springmann displayed courage early on in life, according to family members.

For instance, Stratton remembers him at age 2 courageously eating up a lobster after his father jokingly called it a “monster.”

Or at Six Flags amusement park, when a 5-year-old Springmann pushed his nervous step-dad down a water slide and followed after him. “Very daring — he didn’t have no fear in him,” Martin said.

Zachary Martin said his brother taught him a lot of things, helped him study, volunteered with him to assist the elderly, and spent time with himskateboarding and riding their bicycles. He was more like a father than a brother, Zachary said.

“He helped me with everything,” Zachary said.

Springmann was “a handful as a teenager,” Stratton said, but he quickly became an adult with direction when he set his sights on joining the military during high school.

When he was 14, Tyler went to Texas to live with his father, then returned to Maine when he was 16 and spent his junior and senior year at Nokomis in Newport, Stratton said. Tyler was inspired to join the military because of his father, Robert.

“He wanted to follow in his dad’s footsteps,” Stratton said.

Several days per week during high school, Springmann also attended the building trades program at the Tri-County Technical Center in Dexter.

“Tyler was a quiet student who worked hard to meet his graduation requirements,” William Braun, the school superintendent. “He was noted as a great kid, quiet, hard working and worked to complete his high school so he could enter the military.”

Springmann’s senior-year building trades instructor at the technical center, John Guay, said he remembers Springmann as a “very nice young man” who was “always smiling.”

“He could always make light of a mistake or adult situation; he could see the positive,” Guay said. “He was interested in carpentry and he wanted those skills in the service.”

Springmann was even able to make light of a painful situation at the tech center: driving a screw through sheet rock and all the way through his finger. According to Guay, Springmann said it could have been worse; it could have hit the bone.

The teen was also fluent in sign language — a skill he learned from an aunt — and he was fascinated by language and the meaning of words, Guay said. Beneath Springmann’s good nature and quick wit, though, he was also deeply serious about serving in the military, he said.

Springmann sought Guay’s blessing to enlist, and Guay did so, but cautioned that his own nephew had returned from service with physical and emotional wounds, and a former student of his had died while training for service in Iraq.

Springmann said he understood and was willing to die for his country.

“That was OK to him,” Guay said. “The risk was OK.”

His dream

Stratton signed her 17-year-old son’s paperwork for military enlistment.

“That was his dream,” she said. “That was the one thing he wanted to do and I wasn’t about to stand in his way of it, and I wasn’t going to let anybody else do it, either.”

“He wanted to make a career out of the military,” Ben Martin added. “When he turned 18 he had his life all planned out. He was so happy — was going to make a good life for himself.”

He was sent off to boot camp soon after graduating from Nokomis in June 2010. Springmann was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, at Fort Wainwright, Alaska, according to the Department of Defense.

Springmann married his high school sweetheart, Brittney Black, Jan. 30 while he was stationed in Alaska, according to Stratton.

This past October, Springmann surprised his mother when he used leave time from boot camp to visit home in Hartland. Stratton knocked the coffee table over in amazement when her son walked through the door.

“I had no idea he was coming home. I got to spend nine days with him and then he went back to Alaska,” she said. “That was the biggest surprise I had ever had in my entire life. It was so awesome to see him walk through that door in his green uniform and his hat and big old Army boots. It was nice.”

Tyler Springmann’s aunt, Theresa Martin, who lives next door to Stratton and Martin, said she will always hold onto a memory: his love of a white chocolate birthday cake from last year.

“He loved that cake; he so happy,” she said. “He talked about it all the time, bragged about it every day. He asked if he’d get another one next year.”

Springmann left for deployment to Afghanistan May 4, according to Martin and Stratton.

During his enlistment, Springmann called home nearly every day, according to Zachary Martin. “He’d tell us how it was going and the new people he would meet,” Martin said. “He was enjoying it because it was a new challenge for him.”

Then, Sunday morning, Springmann was killed. A chaplain and Army officer stopped by the Hartland home later that afternoon to confirm for Stratton and Martin that their son had died.

There was initially confusion Tuesday on the spelling of Springmann’s last name. The Department of Defense, citing military records and Springmann’s military uniform name tag, initially identified him as Springman. But the Department of Defense later Tuesday confirmed the corrected spelling of Springmann, after Stratton and Robert Springmann contacted military officials.

The news shocked his family, after many had heard from him just the day before.

“It’s definitely hard; it’s hard for everybody,” Ben Martin said. “We just wanted him back here in the United States. That’s what going to bother us now — he was looking so forward to coming home this December.”

Stratton and Martin said Tuesday that services had not yet been scheduled, but the family intended to bury Springmann in Newport following a full military funeral.

Scott Monroe — 861-9239

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