Staff Sgt. Vincent W. Ashlock put in nearly 10 years in the active-duty Army as a young man. After he left, his yearning to get back in uniform never waned. Three years ago, he signed up with the California Army National Guard and found himself, at age 42, staffing dangerous checkpoints south of Baghdad.
"Getting back into the service was his mission in life," said his mother, Margot Stengel. "When he went to Iraq, he said: 'I finally feel like a man.' He just felt good about what he was doing."
Ashlock died Dec. 4, partway through the second tour of duty in his second military life. He was attached to an Army National Guard company, the 890th Engineer Battalion, 168th Engineer Brigade in Lucedale, Miss. He had been serving in eastern Afghanistan's Khowst province, on the Pakistani border. He was 45.
Ashlock appears to have died in his sleep, relatives and military officials said. The cause of death is presumed to be a heart attack, said his wife, Angela.
"He had a strong patriotism," his wife said. "He took the military spirit to heart. He tried to be a man of honor and liberty and honesty."
Ashlock was born in San Jose and reared largely in Merced, then in Montana, his mother said. He joined the Army at 18. After leaving the military in his late 20s, he held a variety of jobs — installing flooring and carpeting and working as a warehouse manager in Sacramento.
"But in his civilian life, it was hard for him to do the everyday work, going to work 9 to 5," his wife said. "He liked the excitement of the military. He wanted to be part of doing great things and helping people and making a difference."
After joining the National Guard in California, he was quickly attached to a Mississippi unit that was ready to deploy to Iraq. There, he helped train security forces from other nations — at one point trading in the rum cakes his mother sent him for a goat, which he cooked as a holiday meal for Ugandan forces.
"I said, 'You did what?' " his mother said. "He said, 'That's what they like. I made sure they got Christmas dinner.' "
After that deployment, Ashlock volunteered for another tour, this one in Afghanistan. Much of it was spent conducting dangerous road-clearing missions. He injured his neck in one roadside explosion.
In November, shortly before he died, Ashlock visited home on leave. His daughter's elementary school asked him to participate in a Veterans Day ceremony.
"They sang songs to them and honored them," his wife said. "It was the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. He went up there with my daughter in front of everybody and had tears in his eyes. He was really proud of what he did. It was the last time he was here."
Ashlock was buried in Monterey near his hometown of Seaside, south of Santa Cruz.
In addition to his wife and mother, he is survived by five children, Christopher Romine, Erica Sepanski, Jessee Ashlock, Kali Ashlock and Steven Ashlock; his stepfather, Neil Schweitzer; two brothers, Ryan "Buzz" Schweitzer and Lonnie Everson; a sister, Dawn Doss; his grandmother, Bonnie Ashlock; and two grandchildren.