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One local family wants to make sure their Marine knows they are thinking of him today while he's serving halfway around the world.

U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Troy Zimmer, 21, of Eureka, won't be able to see his wife, three children -- ages 2, 3 and 4 -- or parents on Christmas because he is serving a tour in Afghanistan.

”Even though he's thousands of miles away, he's not alone,” said his wife, Kelly Zimmer. “We think about him every day.”

Troy Zimmer's dad, Ty Zimmer, said he loves and misses his son and can't wait for him to come home.

”We're proud of him,” Ty Zimmer added.

His good friend Zac Niemela said he wanted to wish Troy Zimmer a “Merry Christmas.”

Zimmer's family plans to Skype, or video chat, with him today as he opens his gifts.

”It feels like he's right here,” Kelly Zimmer said. “It feels like he's standing right next to me.”

Troy Zimmer, a 2010 graduate of Eureka High School, is one unit off of infantry, or the second to battle. He deployed in September, and is serving his first tour.

He joined the Marines right after graduating from high school.

Being in the service has changed Troy Zimmer's life, his family said.

When he was 16, he ran away from home. Most of his high school friends are in prison, jail or on probation.

”He didn't want that lifestyle,” Kelly Zimmer said. “When he ran away, he realized that's not what he wanted.”

When his tour is complete in about 90 days, Troy Zimmer plans to enroll in the College of the Redwoods Police Academy.

”He wants to come back here and help change the lives of people in Humboldt County,” Kelly Zimmer said. “He wants to work in narcotics.”

Troy Zimmer's family said he is outgoing, levelheaded and a wonderful father and son.

”If one of us are having a bad day, he goes out of his way to make us smile,” said his mom, Debbie Zimmer. He's just a great kid. He's the ultimate son.”

Lorna Rodriguez can be reached at 441-0506 or Follow her on Twitter @LornaARodriguez.