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MILITARY DEATHS

Army Sgt. Jason J. Buzzard, 31, Ukiah; Killed in Truck Explosion in Baghdad

July 02, 2006|Dan Morain | Times Staff Writer

As always, Michele Buzzard ended her last conversation with her husband, Army Sgt. Jason J. Buzzard, by telling him to remain safe, to come home alive and, of course, that she loved him.

"He would never say, 'Good-bye'; he would say, 'Later,' " she said, recalling the talk, conducted via instant Internet messaging on Father's Day.

Buzzard, a 31-year-old father of two young children, was killed three days later, on June 21, when an improvised explosive device detonated near his cargo truck in Baghdad.

He was born in the Northern California town of Willits and grew up in Ukiah. The Ukiah Daily Journal reported that he was the first soldier from Mendocino County to die in the Iraq war. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division at Ft. Hood, Texas.

"He was commanding a convoy of four vehicles," his wife said in a telephone interview. "He took most of the force."

Michele and Jason Buzzard were high school sweethearts, she from the coastal town of Fort Bragg and he from the county seat of Ukiah. He graduated from Ukiah High School in 1993, where he played tuba in the band. He enlisted in the Army in 1998. "He wanted to defend his country," his wife said. "He liked getting away from Mendocino County. We were in Colorado for five years. He went to Korea for a year. We were stationed at Ft. Hood."

Buzzard left for Iraq two days after Thanksgiving last year, and came home on leave in May. "He explained he had a lot of close calls," his wife said. "He promised he would do everything [he could] to come home alive."

During his visit home in May, Buzzard watched his son, Tristin, 9, play catcher in three baseball games, and his daughter, Michala, 12, play outfield in a softball game. "He really enjoyed watching the kids," his wife said. "He was a proud dad."

Buzzard had a competitive streak of his own, enjoying bowling and other games with his family and friends. He loved to fish with his father, Jerry, go pheasant hunting and dive for abalone off the Northern California coast. He also was proud of his prowess at the barbecue.

"He was a fun-loving, great husband and dad," his wife said. "He was everything to me."

In the military, he was a combat engineer, and explained his work by saying: "They blow [up] things, build bridges and pound pickets." He also helped train Iraqis. He was convinced that the U.S. mission was proper, his wife said, saying the country needed "to finish what they started. He thought they were doing a lot more good over there than what people see."

During their last conversation, Buzzard and his wife talked about whether he would reenlist. If he did, he wanted to be stationed at Ft. Lewis, Wash., so he and his wife could be closer to their families, although he knew he might be sent back to Iraq. He hoped after discharge to find a career as a police officer or sheriff's deputy, his wife said.

In addition to his wife and children, he is survived by his parents, Jerry and Marilyn Buzzard of Ukiah; and a sister, Kelly MacMillan.

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