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'The Secretary of the Army regrets to inform you ...' 

By John Rutherford, Producer, NBC News, Washington

 WASHINGTON – Army Staff Sgt. Jonathan Dozier's ancestors fought in the Civil War, both World Wars, and Desert Storm, so it seemed only natural that he would serve in the military, too.

"He's been playing soldier since he was a tiny boy," his mother told Tennessee's Jackson Sun. Dozier would dress in camouflage as a child and play army in the woods behind his Chesapeake, Va., home.

He joined the Army for real in 1997, later left to attend Middle Tennessee State University, and re-enlisted in 2005. Before deploying to Iraq in August, he asked his father, "Is it weird to really want to do this?"

"No," his father replied, according to Virgina's Daily Press, "This is what you're trained to do."

Image: parents of Army Staff Sgt. Jonathan Dozier receive flags
Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP
The parents of Army Staff Sgt. Jonathan Dozier, of Chesapeake, Va., Carl Dozier and Martha Cabe, center, and widow Amy Dozier, second from left, receive flags from Brig. Gen. John Johnson, during a burial ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, Tuesday, Jan. 22. 

Dozier was trained as a sniper team leader in Iraq. He and five other members of the First Armored Division were killed Jan. 9 by a bomb blast in Sinsil, north of Baghdad. When two soldiers appeared later that day at his father's door, his dad knew something was wrong.

"How bad is it?" he asked them, according to the Daily Press. "As soon as they started saying, 'The Secretary of the Army regrets to inform you ...', I knew how bad it was."

The 30-year-old Dozier was laid to rest Tuesday at Arlington National Cemetery in what has become an increasingly rare public burial.

I have been covering the Arlington burials for about eight months, and the public ones used to average as many as two or three a week. But Dozier's burial was the first one open to the press in more than two months.

I think that's because the number of American casualties in Iraq has decreased and, perhaps, because more families are opting for private burials. For instance, the families of the last four fallen service members wanted their burial ceremonies closed to the public.

Dozier was the 402nd casualty of the war in Iraq to be laid to rest at Arlington. Several hundred mourners gathered on a brisk, bleak winter afternoon to pay their final respects to the fallen soldier.

He is survived by his widow, Amy, and their infant daughter, Emma Grace.

Washington Producer John Rutherford is a decorated Vietnam veteran. He posts a weekly tribute at

www.dailynightly.msnbc.com to service members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan in the Daily Nightly blog.