After serving 11 years in the Army, including the Persian Gulf War, Isaac Shawn Lawson took a job as an insurance claims adjuster and settled into a comfortable life with his wife and 3-year-old daughter in Sacramento.
But Lawson, 35, missed the rigor and challenges of the military, so he enlisted in the California National Guard. The sergeant first class was sent to Iraq in September as part of the 49th Military Police Brigade, which helps coordinate training for 135,000 Iraqi police officers.
During a visit home in April, he told his wife, Suzzettee, that he was stationed at Camp Victory outside Baghdad and didn't see much action. "He was just assuring us that he would be safe," she said.
But on June 5, Lawson was killed when his Humvee struck a roadside bomb outside Baghdad. He had just let several other soldiers out of the Humvee after its air-conditioning broke down in the 120-degree heat.
His death prompted a flood of e-mails and letters from fellow soldiers, his wife said. "They were so devastated.... He was the perfect soldier," she said.
Lawson was a diligent and hard-working but warm-hearted guardsman who handled administrative duties with a staff of about a dozen soldiers, said Capt. Jonathan Shiroma, public affairs officer for the 49th Military Police Brigade in Fairfield, Calif., who knew Lawson for several years. He was a "go-to guy who always got the job done," Shiroma said.
No stranger to the streets of Iraq, Lawson went out regularly on visits to police stations. He excelled at working with younger soldiers, and often softened his stern demeanor with encouraging words, Shiroma said. "He tried to work with soldiers and make them into better soldiers in a tough-love kind of way," he said.
Lawson was born in Sacramento and went to Elk Grove High School, where he was a sprinter on the track and field team. His fitness regimen remained a constant in his life, and he kept a lean, 5-foot, 10-inch frame that made him one of the fittest soldiers in his brigade.
His stepson, Curtis Goldwire, 24, said he could beat Lawson in a basketball game, but sprints were a different story. "He could always beat me in a footrace," Goldwire said.
Lawson, a "gadget guy and a whiz on computers," according to friends and family, set up a webcam at Camp Victory so he could keep in daily contact with his wife.
Suzzettee Lawson said her husband loved what he was doing, finding it more fulfilling than civilian work.
"The desk job was killing him," she said. During their Web cam conversations, she gave him regular updates on their daughter, Chiara, whose mischievous behavior delighted Lawson, who said it reminded him of his mother. When she didn't hear from her husband June 5, Suzzettee Lawson knew something was wrong.
Lawson had gone with a convoy of vehicles to Baqubah, about 35 miles from Camp Victory, as part of a mission to get an update from military police units. On the way back to Camp Victory, Lawson's vehicle struck the roadside bomb. Shiroma said he heard the explosion. No one else was injured.
Lawson was a special man who took on difficult tasks and took extra time to help others, Shiroma said. "He was a soldier that was always encouraging, motivated, very respectful," Shiroma said. "He was a great mentor that wouldn't give up on some of the soldiers that others might not want to help."