Lance Cpl. Tenzin Chuku Dengkhim was all too aware of the conflict he faced when the former Utahn signed up to serve in the Marine Corps.
    In addition to helping the people of Iraq fight for their freedom, the Tibetan refugee, a devout Buddhist, faced an internal conflict of peace versus violence. His drive was strong to better himself -- to gain an education and military training -- that he might someday fight to free his native nation.
    But on April 2, just three weeks after being shipped to Iraq, Dengkhim was killed during a firefight in the Al Anbar province in Iraq, where he served as part of 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion in the 2nd Marine Division based at Camp Lejeune, N.C.
    Born in India in 1985, Dengkhim came to the United States in 1996 to join his mother, who was among the first of a group of Tibetan refugees to move to Utah in 1992.
    He attended Salt Lake City's Washington Elementary and Bryant Intermediate schools.
    He is remembered by his cousin as a quiet, thoughtful young man -- dedicated to his studies and his family.
    Serving the Marines would earn him a scholarship for school and afford him military training in the world's best armed forces, said Pema Chagzoetsang, whose cousin is Dengkhim's mother.
    "It was his wish to go to Iraq," Chagzoetsang said. "He told his mother, 'I really want to go. It allows me to help [the Iraqi] people get their freedom.' "
    Dengkhim left Salt Lake City for Washington, D.C., about five years ago when his mother was offered a job with Radio Free Asia. Among those he left behind was childhood friend Tenzin Passang, 16, who was sad to hear of his friend's death.
    "He always looked out for me. When kids picked on me, he was always there to try and protect me," Passang said.
    Dengkhim joined the military on Sept. 14, just days after receiving an audience with the Dalai Lama in Washington.
    "That meant a lot to him," Chagzoetsang said.
    Dengkhim's mother last heard from her son the day before he was killed, Chagzoetsang said.
    "He told his mother, 'Everything is OK. Don't believe everything you see in the media that make it sound so big and scary. It's not like that,' " said Chagzoetsang.
    Though devastated, the boy's mother was adjusting to the news of her son's fate Monday night.
    "Deep down, he held the great spirit of Tibet. He came to this country to have an opportunity to have a better life.
    "Through this mission, he impacted those Iraqis. I think his mission is fulfilled and as a Tibetan, he contributed to the American cause," Chagzoetsang said.