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Navy Reserve Cmdr. Duane G. Wolfe, 54, Los Osos, is killed in roadside blast

Duane G. Wolfe had worked the last 24 years at Vandenberg Air Force Base. He considered his Iraq deployment carefully.

At an age when many baby boomers cast their eyes toward retirement, Duane G. Wolfe opted for military duty in Iraq, an assignment that on Memorial Day took him to the still volatile Fallouja area west of Baghdad.

At 54, he was a Navy Reserve commander who had spent decades in the Seabees, the service’s storied construction battalions. Off duty, he worked the last 24 years at Vandenberg Air Force Base, most recently as the civilian deputy commander of the 30th Space Wing Mission Support Group.

Wolfe and his wife of 34 years, Cindi, who have three children in their 20s, considered the Iraq deployment carefully. He could have retired, but he thought that he needed to go.

“He said they could really benefit from all his years of training,” his wife said. “There was a need for that construction and engineering background.”

And having joined the Navy at 17, after graduating from Hueneme High School, she said, he had always retained “a real sense of what it was like to be that new enlisted guy, starting out your career. I said, ‘You make the call.’ ”

Wolfe arrived in Anbar province around Christmastime as officer-in-charge of the area’s U.S. Army Corps of Engineers office. He oversaw a group of 59 service members, Iraqi civilians and others involved in $300-million worth of economic development and security reconstruction projects.

On May 25, as he traveled with a convoy to inspect a new wastewater treatment plant, a roadside bomb exploded. He was among three people killed. It was his first tour of duty in the Middle East.

Wolfe had a clever sense of humor. But he also was “very kindhearted . . . the kind of person who deferred honor and respect to other people,” his wife said.

Sailors, soldiers, civilians and contractors crowded into a memorial service earlier this month at Iraq’s Al Asad Air Base, where Wolfe was remembered for his quiet professionalism and his commitment, according to a military account of the ceremony.

“He epitomized the Seabees’ ‘Can Do!’ motto,” said Lt. Cmdr. Curtis Smith, a project officer who reported to Wolfe.

Chief Petty Officer Joseph Neuman, who also served with Wolfe, recalled that “he was very strong and dedicated. . . . He would rarely direct the job to get done -- he’d help get the job done.”

Born in Canada and adopted as a child, Wolfe enlisted in 1972 and spent five years on active Navy duty. He then joined the reserves and obtained a degree in construction engineering at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

In the private sector, Wolfe worked on the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant and the space shuttle facilities program.

He was commissioned as a naval officer in 1990. His reserve unit was based at the Navy’s Operational Support Center in Port Hueneme.

As a deacon at Los Osos Church of Christ, his recurring themes were courage and conviction, his wife said. He also enjoyed playing basketball and took pride in the couple’s three children: Carrie Wolfe-Smith, Katie and Evan.

The family’s last image of Wolfe was a warm exchange via an Internet webcam service his wife used about once a week to keep in touch with him. She was visiting Katie and Evan at college in Kentucky, where Katie was graduating from a nursing program.

When Katie read a speech she had presented to her class, Cindi Wolfe saw her husband reach up to wipe away a tear. Later, his wife recalled, they all spent time joking around. “He was throwing his head back and laughing,” she said.

Burial services were held at Los Osos Memorial Park.

rich.connell@latimes.com


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