CHICAGO (STMW) — A United States Marine from northwest suburban Elgin died in Afghanistan while “conducting combat operations,” according to a release issued Friday by the U.S. Department of Defense.

Cpl. Alex Martinez, 21, died on Thursday in the Helmand province in Afghanistan, the release said. Martinez was assigned to the 1st Combat Engineer Battalion of the 1st Marine Division in Camp Pendleton, Calif., the release said.

Martinez joined the Marine’s shortly after turning 18 in December of 2008, said Martinez’s stepfather, Jim Bethke.

“He took summer classes so he could graduate early and join the Marines,” Bethke said. “It was something he wanted to do. He was proud to be a Marine.”

Bethke said that prior to joining the Marines, Martinez married his fiancée, Julianna.

“It’s been really tough for her,” Bethke said.

Martinez’s family will leave Saturday for Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, where his remains will be flown to from Afghanistan, Bethke said.

(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2012. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)