The military was life for Sgt. Ryan Doltz, 26, of Mine Hill, N.J., something he lived and breathed, something he believed in. He attended Virginia Military Institute and joined the New Jersey Army National Guard. When the call came for his unit to go to Iraq, he went, even though heel injuries had threatened to keep him stateside.
"He loved the military. He always wanted everything military," said his mother, Cheryl Doltz. "It only seemed fitting that he be buried at a military cemetery."
Her son was laid to rest yesterday at Arlington National Cemetery, two weeks after being killed in Baghdad's Sadr City with another member of the National Guard's 3rd Battalion of the 112th Field Artillery. He and Sgt. Humberto F. Timoteo, 25, of Newark died June 5 in a roadside bombing.
Under cloudy skies, scores of New Jersey National Guard soldiers and VMI cadets lifted their hands in salute to Doltz, the 68th casualty of the Iraq war to be buried at Arlington. The funeral party was a sea of uniforms, and the cortege comprised countless cars and five buses. Both U.S. senators from New Jersey were there.
Doltz, a specialist who posthumously was given the rank of sergeant, had political aspirations of his own. He had said he wanted to run for mayor of Mine Hill, a town of 3,700 about 35 miles west of New York City, and the words "president of the United States" had passed his lips on occasion. He thought he could make a difference, his mother said.
After his graduation from VMI and a stint in the Virginia National Guard, he returned to his home town, where he and his brother, Greg, 25, were members of the volunteer first aid squad there. His sister, Anne, is 31.
Doltz kept in touch after he shipped out to Iraq. He would call home once or twice a week, usually after he returned to base from a mission. "We're doing the right thing," he would tell his family. "This is where we should be."
In his view, many of Iraq's problems could be traced to teenagers, whom he saw as troublemakers. He wanted to make an impression on the next generation. "If we can convince them that what we're doing was right, it will change everything," his mother recounted him saying. He carried candy around Baghdad and distributed it to children, hoping they would see Americans as their friends and not their enemies.
If Doltz called and no one was home, he wouldn't leave a message, but caller ID always tipped off his mother. He had called on June 4, she said. Two members of the New Jersey National Guard had been killed that day, and Cheryl Doltz later realized that he had called to let her know he was okay. The next day brought worse news, however, and Cheryl Doltz said she knew it the moment she saw the chaplain and military officer at her door.
At the burial, she and her husband, Raymond, sat with the rest of their family in chairs covered in crushed green velvet. After remarks by a chaplain, seven riflemen fired three volleys into the air. The adjutant general of New Jersey, Brig. Gen. Glenn K. Reith, knelt near Cheryl Doltz and presented her with the flag that had draped her son's coffin, as well as testaments to his service, a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart.
Most of the funeral party left Doltz's grave site shortly after the presentation, but his family remained for a few moments before the coffin was lowered.