Two years had passed since Alan Shaw had left the Marines. He was working in the family business in Little Rock, installing acoustic ceilings, when the Iraq war began, and he decided there was a more pressing job for him to do.
So, despite the protests of family members who argued that it was a dangerous time to be wearing a uniform, Shaw joined the Army.
"He'd tell you if everyone thought like we did, we'd have no one taking care of us," Shaw's older brother, Larry Shaw, told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
But Staff Sgt. Alan Shaw's mission ended early. Shaw, 31, was killed Feb. 9 by an explosion in Baqubah, about 35 miles northeast of Baghdad. He and other soldiers were searching a building for weapons when a bomb exploded.
Staff Sgt. Eric Ross, 26, of Kenduskeag, Maine, and Spec. Leeroy Camacho, 28, of Saipan, Mariana Islands, also were killed in the blast.
All three were assigned to the 1st Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, based at Fort Hood, Tex.
Yesterday, amid a backdrop of leafless trees, Shaw's friends and family gathered at Arlington National Cemetery to bury the man they remembered as a soldier who believed he could make a difference in the war.
"He believed in what we were doing there," Shaw's wife, Sharrell, told the Democrat-Gazette shortly after her husband's death, adding he "lived and breathed" the job. To that end, she said, he had "0311," his military occupational specialty code, tattooed on one of his arms.
Shaw graduated from Wilbur D. Mills High School in Little Rock in 1994. He attended Arkansas Tech University in Russellville for a year before joining the Marine Corps in 1998. He served two overseas tours and one sea service tour before being honorably discharged in 2002.
He married his wife in October 2003. A year later, he joined the Army and was quickly deployed to Baghdad for his first combat tour.
"Alan exhibited great pride in his military career and was an outstanding leader and friend to his fellow soldiers," read a passage from Shaw's obituary.
"He was always among the first to volunteer and he believed wholeheartedly in his mission as a part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Alan died a hero to an entire nation as well as to his family and friends."
Shaw was the third of seven siblings. Yesterday, his three children, Austin, 10, Jourdan, 7, and Davyn, 6, were with their mother at Arlington for the memorial service, which included a seven-gun, 3-volley salute and the playing of taps.
Six soldiers folded the American flag that had draped Shaw's polished wooden coffin. Dropping to one knee, Brig. Gen. Peter Vangjel presented a flag to Shaw's widow and another to his parents, Jarrel and Noramae Shaw. He rose slowly, offering each a salute.
In an online guestbook for mourners, Staff Sgt. David Black, from Fort Hood, described Shaw as "my brother," someone who made the ultimate sacrifice.
"You are truly a hero to me," Black wrote. "One day we will see each other again and we will sit around and tell old stories. I will truly miss you Brother."
Shaw was the 309th service member killed in the Iraq war to be buried at Arlington Cemetery.