Channing Day harboured a schoolgirl dream of joining the Army, a teacher at her former school said.
As a bubbly and sporty teenager in Northern Ireland she completed work experience with the forces in 2002 and worked well with everybody there, Strangford College acting principal Paul Maxwell added.
She was always physically fit and achieved top grades in PE, excelling at gymnastics, trampolining and netball.
Mr Maxwell said: "She always said she wanted to join the Army, she was pretty much focused on wanting to join the Army."
He said her sporting prowess revealed her gritty determination to succeed. "It was not just that she was good but that she always showed commitment, she stayed after school and did all the practice," he added.
Ms Day, 25, was from Comber, Co Down, near Belfast and attended the nearby Strangford College the year after it was established - from 1998 to 2003.
The integrated education movement in Northern Ireland at that time existed amidst a prevailing system which encouraged children to attend mainly Protestant state-controlled schools or mainly Catholic schools run by the church, a legacy which some have criticised for helping entrench sectarianism from a young age.
Mr Maxwell said: "She came in the second year of the school's existence and at that stage the school had no funding, none until 2000. It was a leap of faith to send your child to an integrated school of that nature."
He said the school is in a Protestant area (where service in the Army would be more acceptable). Ms Day is of mixed race but Mr Maxwell said this did not affect how she was perceived at school or by her friends. "Because of her sporting skills she was able to fit right in," he said. "She came to a school that could have closed because there was no funding, it was a risk for mum and dad to send her." Her brother Aaron and sister Laken also attended the school. Her mother's name is Rosemary.
Ms Day left school at 16 and Mr Maxwell said he believed she went straight into the Army. The acting principal added: "Every pupil is dear to us and I can remember Channing as if it was yesterday, somebody we remember as being young, and still so young, is suddenly killed in such a tragic way."