Jason E. George was the kind of guy, those who knew him say, who had more friends than he could count and never forgot their birthdays or wedding anniversaries.
"He was so good about staying in touch with everyone," said Army Maj. Brett Sylvia, who met George when both were cadets at West Point in the early 1990s. "He was the kind of guy who just really connected with people."
When Sylvia learned that his friend "J.G.," a major in the Army Reserve, was killed last month in Iraq, he volunteered to accompany George's remains from Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to his Kern County hometown of Tehachapi.
"I said I would be honored to have that duty," said Sylvia, who works at the Pentagon. "When something like this happens, everyone asks themselves, 'What can I do?' Since I'm still in the military, this is something I can do to not only show how much J.G. meant to me, but to honor his service and do something for his family."
George, 38, was among three soldiers killed May 21 when a roadside bomb exploded near them while they were on foot patrol near an outdoor market in south Baghdad's Dora district. He was assigned to the 252nd Combined Arms Battalion in Fayetteville, N.C. Two national guardsmen also died in the blast: 1st Lt. Leevi K. Barnard, 28, of Mount Airy, N.C., and Sgt. Paul F. Brooks, 34, of Joplin, Mo., the Defense Department said.
George's death prompted an outpouring of support for his parents, Hugh and Candy Mason, who still live in the town where he played a variety of competitive sports and graduated from Tehachapi High School in 1988.
A Facebook memorial page drew more than 450 members, many of whom posted messages of condolence along with wistful recollections of George and the time they spent with him at various stages of his life.
Some posted images of local newspaper clippings from George's youth, including one that announced a congressman's nomination of him for all three military academies. It also described him as an Eagle Scout, an all-Desert-Inyo League placekicker and president of the National Honor Society at Tehachapi High, where he graduated second in his class.
Others who knew George recalled his quick wit, his devotion to his mother and stepfather and his affinity for American cars, the Dodgers and the California lifestyle.
"He tended to try to wear shorts as long as possible, just because he missed California and wanted to be that guy in shorts," said Ted Williams, who roomed with George at West Point and remained a good friend in the years since.
Jay Wells, who started the Facebook memorial, recalled a mid-1980s ski trip to Colorado with George and his grandparents.
"It was a great trip," Wells wrote. "Every morning we were the first on the lifts to break in the trails and most days the last off of the lifts. We literally skied until we were too tired to think of much else. What a great experience shared with great people."
In an e-mail to The Times, Wells said it "is a difficult time for all of Jason's friends and family," several hundred of whom gathered from around the country for memorial services last week in Tehachapi.
George will be buried with full military honors at Bakersfield National Cemetery, which is under construction and scheduled to open next month, an Army spokeswoman said.
After a year at Cal State Bakersfield, George landed an appointment to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and was commissioned a second lieutenant in 1994. His eight years of active duty as an Army combat engineer included stints in Ranger School and in Bosnia, friends said.
He later earned a master's in business administration at the University of Michigan and was working as a healthcare consultant in Chicago when he was called up to active duty in January. He was assigned to civil-military operations, friends said, and would have worked with local Iraqi businesses and elected officials to help stabilize the country.
George had been in Iraq for about two weeks when he was killed.
His friend Williams, now a private equity investor, said George had previously been a liaison for the West Point admissions office and might have been able to pull strings to avoid Iraq duty -- if he had tried.
"A lot of guys would fight it, or hire a lawyer to get out of it, but he didn't," Williams said. "He said, 'This is my duty and I'm gonna go.' He had no hesitation, which is a real tribute to how he felt about his country."
George is survived by his mother, stepfather and two stepbrothers, Mike and Kelly Mason.