Years of hunting wild turkeys in the backwoods outside Santa Maria, Calif., helped turn Army Sgt. Shawn E. Dressler into a good marksman.
When he enlisted in 2002 and headed overseas for two tours in Iraq, Dressler sat in the gunner’s seat every time his team rolled out.
During his last trip home in April, Dressler’s father, Cecil, watched him expertly stalk and shoot a turkey.
“I nearly blew the hunt for him, but he was so steady,” his father said. “He was a good boy and a good soldier.”
Dressler, 22, was on patrol June 2 when a roadside bomb exploded next to his Humvee in Baghdad. He died about 30 minutes later. Another soldier injured in the blast, Army Pfc. Joshua D. Brown, 26, of Tampa, Fla., died the next day.
Dressler was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division in Schweinfurt, Germany.
A third-generation serviceman -- his grandfathers were in the Army and Marine Corps, and his dad was an engineer for the Navy -- Dressler learned to shoot with his father’s boltaction shotgun when he was 10.
When he was a teenager, Dressler and his father scouted out the roughest parts of Los Padres National Forest and spent days hunting, hiking, fishing and camping.
Dressler joined the Army after graduating from Santa Maria High School and talked about pursuing a career in law enforcement once he got out. But after two tours in Iraq, he backed off the idea and considered becoming a forest ranger or game warden. He always tuned in to the History Channel and thought about going back to school to become a history teacher.
During the last few months, Dressler had a few close calls in Iraq, family members said. He once took a spray of bullets to the chest. His Kevlar vest saved him, but the force from the attack knocked him over, his father said. Still, he hardly ever let on to family members that he had been in danger.
Dressler liked to kid his Army colleagues and tried to keep things light.
In Germany, he and his roommate had a surround-sound entertainment system and turned their room into a makeshift karaoke lounge.
“We had a big-screen TV, a PlayStation and computers. Everyone would come to our room,” said Spc. Bobby Short, 23, Dressler’s former roommate, who left the Army in January. “The sergeants knew to come to our room if they wanted to find someone.”
On his trip home in April, Dressler and his father picked up an old routine and left the house at 4 a.m. to hunt turkeys.
The whole day, his father recalled, Dressler kept thanking him for raising him well -- as if he wanted to make sure he said it plenty of times in case something bad happened.
“Dad, thank you for taking me out over the years,” he said.
“Son, that’s what dads do,” his father replied.
Dressler’s wife, Amanda, believes he married her last year -- ahead of their plans -- to make sure she would be taken care of. Dressler met her online in December 2004 during his first tour in Iraq.
She said he had pretty eyes and a wily sense of humor. Within weeks, she said, “we both knew we were meant to be together.”
Dressler originally wanted to get married after he left the Army.
But six days after she returned to the U.S. after visiting him in Germany, he suddenly changed his mind. Amanda Dressler flew back to Germany in June 2006, and they were married in Denmark by a man they couldn’t understand.
“We have a video of it, and you can see us both trying hard not to laugh,” she recalled with a chuckle. “We didn’t understand a word he said. We just stood there nodding our heads.”
In the 2 1/2 years they were a couple, they spent only 3 1/2 months together in the same place.
On the day he died, Dressler called his wife and told her that he would be heading out on patrol soon.
They had closed escrow on a three-bedroom house in Commerce, Ga., about a week earlier, and Amanda told him that she had finished painting the inside walls. She expected the carpet to be put in that day.
Dressler died 12 hours later. He was buried in Athens, Ga., his wife’s hometown.
In addition to his wife and father, Dressler is survived by his mother, Tonya; a sister, Melissa, 20; and two stepbrothers, James, 36, and Daniel, 32.