On Sept. 24, Staff Sgt. Dustin Wright, a Green Beret, celebrated his 29th birthday. It included what would be a final call with his brother Will.
There was talk of future plans, and Dustin’s blossoming romance with his girlfriend, which Will, 30, of Lyons, Georgia, tells PEOPLE was leading to a marriage proposal.
“I wanted him to know I loved him and I was proud of him,” says Will. “And the last thing I said to my brother and the last thing he said to me was, ‘I love you and we’ll talk soon.’ ”
Just 10 days later, Dustin was killed when ISIS attacked his Special Forces team in an ambush.
Three other soldiers also died in the attack, including Staff Sgt. Jeremiah Johnson, Staff Sgt. Bryan Black and Sgt. La David Johnson, whose memory has been drawn into in a controversy involving a call President Donald Trump made to Johnson’s widow, when he told her that the soldier “knew what he signed up for.”
Wright’s father, Arnold Wright, also received a call from the president, and the pair spoke for 20 minutes on Tuesday, says Will.
“It went well, he was pleased with the phone call,” Will says of his father. “He got to talk about what he wanted to talk about and Trump was very receptive and [my dad] is very grateful for the phone call.”
Dustin added: “I am sure it was emotional, it’s a hard topic to talk about.”
“He talked to me about the loss of my son,” Wright told TIME, “and how he served with honor and dignity and he just wanted to give me a call to thank me.”
Dustin’s funeral was held Oct. 15 in his hometown of Lyons.
The Wright family has a long history of serving in the military, since 1812. Dustin is the first family member to die while serving, says Will, who’s just 13 months older than his brother.
He calls Dustin “the best friend I ever had and ever will have.”
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“There were two sides to Dustin — he was the toughest, strongest, baddest man I knew, but if you sat down and talked to him he was the kindest, most loving, gentlest person you ever knew,” Will says.
“His strength would startle you but then his softness would catch you off guard,” he continues. “He could make anyone smile.”
After working in the family’s light construction business, Dustin carried on the family tradition of serving, joining the Army in 2012. This, says Will, was Dustin’s second deployment to Niger.
Dustin’s dreams included staying in the Army before transitioning into the National Guard. He was also planning on moving from Georgia to the Philadelphia area “to live near his girlfriend” and “start a life together,” Will says.
Dustin hadn’t yet popped the question.
“That was kinda the plan,” says Will, “when he was coming home.”