After six years in the Army and frequent overseas deployments, Staff Sgt. Richard A. Burdick worked out a plan to be close to his wife, Jeniffer, and their two children.
Upon his return from Iraq in February, the 24-year-old soldier from National City, Calif., would take his family to Korea for a yearlong assignment. After that, they would be based at Ft. Irwin, near Barstow, and he would not be deployed for five years.
"He wanted to be with his family," said his wife, who had been staying with relatives in Lancaster since Burdick left for Iraq in May. "He wanted to finally be together without going to any more wars, any more peacekeeping missions."
But Burdick was killed Dec. 10 in an ambush when his vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device in Mosul.
Burdick, who was assigned to Company C, 3rd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division at Ft. Campbell, Ky., was buried Thursday at Ft. Rosecrans National Cemetery in Point Loma, Calif.
As of Friday, 460 American servicemen and women have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, 322 since major fighting ended May 1. Burdick was one of 51 people with ties to California who have died, four of them this month.
Born in San Diego, Burdick attended Chula Vista High School, where he was a linebacker on the junior varsity football team. He met his future wife, Jeniffer Merritt, now 25, in his sophomore year as he walked alongside the freshman girl to drama class.
Burdick later transferred to Palomar Alternative High School, where he graduated in early 1997 and soon after joined the Army. That February, he left for basic training a week after the birth of the couple's daughter, Angel Lynn, now 6.
The couple's families have a long history of military service. Burdick's father, Michael of Andover, N.Y., served in Vietnam; his grandfather in World War II; and his great-grandfather in World War I. His wife's father retired from the Navy and her grandfather from the Air Force.
The couple were married on Dec. 9, 1997. Their second child, son Michael Sean, now 4, was born in May 1999.
Burdick was stationed with his family at Ft. Bragg, N.C., as well as Ft. Campbell, but had to leave his family behind when he went on peacekeeping missions to Macedonia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. During Burdick's last visit home in November, the family visited his mother, Tari Burdick of Ridgecrest.
Jeniffer Burdick last heard from her husband by phone from Iraq the day after their sixth wedding anniversary, just hours before he was killed. In that conversation, she said, he described how insurgents attacked American soldiers by throwing improvised explosive devices at them.
"I told him to be safe," she said. "He told me to tell Angel that he would be here for her birthday."