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'Invincible' Marine's death stuns Armstrong family

Marine Sgt. Joseph M. "Joey" Garrison "was invincible to all of us," said his sister Kimberly Knoll.

"That's what's so hard about it," Knoll said.

"I'm trying to be the strong one in the family," she said pausing as her voice quivered. "I'm proud to be his sister."

The decorated Marine who grew up in Distant, Armstrong County, died Monday while conducting combat operations in Helmand province in Afghanistan, the Marine Corps Public Affairs Office announced on Tuesday.

Funeral services will be conducted locally.

Garrison, 27, was an infantryman and a squad leader assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, Marine Expeditionary Force, Camp Lejuene, N.C.

He deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom four times: from November 2004 to June, 2005; from January to May, 2006; from May to August, 2009 and most recently in January of this year.

He joined the Marine Corps in August, 2002 after graduating from Redbank Valley High School in New Bethlehem, Clarion County, where he was a successful wrestler. He was promoted to sergeant Oct. 1, 2007.

His awards include two Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medals, a Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, three Afghanistan Campaign Medals, a Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal and a NATO Medal.

Garrison leaves behind his mother, Natalie Schoonover of Dubois; his father, Joseph David Garrison of Minnesota; two sisters, Kimberly Knoll of Tiverton, R.I. who lives there with her husband Aries who is a member of the Coast Guard, and Judy Rupp of the New Bethlehem area; a brother Jake Garrison of Dubois and a fiance, Brittney Stephens of Jacksonville, N.C.

Brian Cressman, assistant varsity wrestling coach at Redbank Valley, told the Tribune-Review that when the Marines came to the school to talk to Garrison in his senior year, he said. "That's what I'm going to do."

Cressman added: "I told him to 'go find your niche.' He did. He became a squad leader. He really found a family in the Marines."

"He loved to be a Marine," said Knoll. "You couldn't ask for a better person to be out there protecting our country. He had such passion for the Marine Corps."

His stepgrandfather Ken Kunkle of New Bethlehem remembered "Joey" as a really nice kid who always came by with flowers on his grandmother Sharon's birthday.

"He was just crazy about the Marines," Kunkle said.

Garrison's other grandparents are Michael and Shirley Long of Florida and Phyllis and John Slimm of Georgia.

Knoll said her brother's fiance is meeting Marine Corps officials who are bringing back the body to Dover, Del. this week.

Local funeral arrangements have not yet been made, according to an official of the Alcorn Funeral Home in Hawthorn, Clarion County.

The family is honoring Garrison by creating a memorial scholarship in his name. They asked that donations go to the scholarship fund.

"He would like that," said Knoll. "That's the kind of good person he was."

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