The 23-year-old soldier from Hayward had been serving in Iraq for a little more than three months when his Humvee "hit some sort of explosive device" late Thursday night, said James Balsley, his father.
"He gave it everything he had," the tearful dad said Friday morning at the family's home. "A lot of guys his age, they want to just hang out. Michael was dedicated to do something not just with his life, but for the United States of America."
Michael Balsley left for Iraq in early October with members of the Army's 3rd Squadron, 61st Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division, based out of Fort Carson, Colo. He was supposed to be on the combat tour for about 12 months, assigned to ground patrol and tracking enemy movements.
Beverly Balsley, his mother, said her easygoing son was homesick but "sounded really good" the last time she spoke with him.
"I asked him if there was anything he needed, and he said phone cards, pictures and letters," she said.
Soon after news of his death arrived Thursday night, friends and family members began keeping constant vigil at the Victory Drive home where Michael Balsley grew up.
Relatives including his grandmother, Annabelle Hibbs, live in nearby houses in the Longwood-Winton Grove neighborhood.
Beverly and James Balsley are active members of Operation Mom, the Castro Valley-based support group for military families.
The elder Balsley, a veteran of the Vietnam War, spoke with The Daily Review, a sister paper for The Argus, just before Veterans Day last year about the importance of supporting those who have served and currently serve in the military.
"I think Michael has the same personality as I have, to a degree," he said in November, proudly showing off photographs in the same room where, on Friday, he mourned his son.
"He kind of looks at the world differently. He sees himself as an average guy (who's) going through life."
It was the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, his parents said, that made Michael Balsley, a graduate of Mt. Eden High School, want to join the Army.
He is survived by his wife, Samantha, and a 1-year-old stepson who live near Ft. Carson. He is also survived by his 25-year-old brother.
As of Friday night, the Department of Defense had not yet made an official announcement about Balsley's death. A spokeswoman said announcements are typically made 24 hours after all of the next of kin are notified.
At least 3,069 members of the U.S. military have died since the Iraq war began in March 2003, according to The Associated Press.
Balsley is the second Hayward soldier to become a casualty in Iraq this month.
Larry Otterstetter, 21 and also a graduate of Mt. Eden, survived an attack on Jan. 7 but was undergoing surgery this week on his eyes and eardrum.
Matt O'Brien can be reached at (510) 293-2473 and firstname.lastname@example.org.