With 250 soldiers under his command, Army Sgt. 1st Class Jonathan Tessar didn't have to ride in the lead vehicle of a convoy south of Baghdad one day last month.
Realizing that the first vehicle in the patrol also could be the one to trigger a hidden roadside bomb, he could have chosen a spot farther back.
But that wasn't his style, according to those who knew the seasoned combat veteran.
"He led," one of his commanding officers told relatives at a memorial service last week at Ft. Campbell, Ky. "He didn't follow."
Tessar, 36, and three other men were killed Oct. 31 when an improvised explosive device detonated by their vehicle near Mahmoudiya, Iraq. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division at Ft. Campbell.
The Simi Valley native is survived by his wife, Nancy, and three children, Jonathan Jr., 14; Shanna, 13; and Mackenzie, 8.
Intrigued with military life, Tessar left Simi Valley High School and enlisted at 17, taking the general educational development exam to obtain his diploma.
"When long hair was cool, he had a flat-top and wore camouflage pants," said his brother Bill, 38, of Simi Valley. "This was something he was really passionate about."
A Green Beret, a paratrooper and a former tactical warfare instructor, Jonathan Tessar fought in Bosnia and in the 1991 Persian Gulf War. He died during his third tour of duty in Iraq.
Returning to Simi Valley for his father's funeral last June, Tessar told his family about his plans to return to combat yet again.
"I said, 'Why go back?' " his brother Bill recalled. "But he went full throttle at just about everything he did. He loved the Army, and he loved this country."
Abundantly tattooed, Tessar enjoyed an occasional chew of tobacco and was a big fan of NASCAR racing. He also followed the news avidly. "He loved politics," his brother said. "He could out-argue anyone."
Tessar planned to retire from the Army in nine months.
"He was really going to start living life," his brother said. "He had missed so many of his kids' birthdays, missed so many holidays so the rest of us wouldn't have to."