'Ultimate sacrifice'

Former Moffat County High School student killed in Iraq is remembered

Staff Sgt. Mark Lawton always said he wanted to "make sure that each of his boys came home in one piece."

Tragically, the wish made by the 41-year-old Hayden man, husband and father of two young sons, didn't come true for himself.

Lawton was killed Friday when his convoy was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade north of As Suaydat, Iraq, said Capt. Curtis Carney, a public affairs specialist and Army Reserve officer.

Four others in the unit from Grand Junction were injured in the attack. One soldier had to have his leg amputated.

Lawton was born in Elkhart, Ind., and moved to Colorado when he was 16. Track and field records at his Alma matter, Moffat County High School, still exalt his athletic prowess, said family members.

Lawton first joined the Army and later the Marine Corps where he served in active duty for more than a decade. There, the veteran soldier fought in Desert Storm. After leaving active duty with the Corps, Lawton signed up again -- this time for the Army Reserves.

"When he learned that his unit was being deployed, Mark, even though he was scheduled for an Army school that would have kept him stateside, volunteered to deploy," said the Lawton family's written statement. "His desire was that he could share his combat experience with younger, less experienced troops and make sure that each of his boys came home in one piece."

Mark Lawton is Routt County's first casualty of war in Iraq. He leaves behind his wife, Sherri, and two sons, Dustin, 4 and Tanner, 1, -- two boys who were fond of bragging about their "cowboy soldier" daddy, according to the family.

Mark Lawton, the family statement reveals, was "an avid outdoorsman and devout Christian who shared his love of the outdoors and God with his family. A golfer with a 3 handicap, Mark had just started teaching his sons the sport."

Others remembered Lawton fondly, as a leader who "put the guys under him as his first priority," said Debbie McWilliams from Craig.

On the day the Lawton family received the tragic news, McWilliams got a similar call. Tyler McWilliams, a specialist in the 244th Engineer Battalion with Mark Lawton, suffered a shrapnel injury to his leg and shoulder in the ambush.

"It's one of your worst fears to get that phone call," said Debbie McWilliams.

"I don't know if it's by the grace of God but I'm thankful Tyler's OK."

"I feel so bad for the Lawtons," the military mother continued. " He was a really good guy. I know Tyler will miss him."

Mark Lawton and Tyler McWilliams carpooled to Grand Junction often and the two families remained close. Some wives and mothers were in the midst of planning a welcoming home party for Mark Lawton and other local soldiers.

According to reports from Tyler McWilliams, the 244th Battalion was ambushed once before as soldiers were guarding a water tank, Debbie McWilliams said.

No one was hurt in that altercation.

The primary mission of the unit is to improve living conditions for 4th Infantry Division soldiers. The 244th Engineer Battalion has been building playgrounds, clearing rubble and restoring irrigation in Iraq, the military said.

The influx of calls from Tyler's friends around town asking about her son's condition puts the Craig mother somewhat at ease.

Learning of Mark Lawton's death though, makes Debbie McWilliams "feel helpless."

"It's such a terrible thing," she said. "It's tragic that it's starting to hit so close to home."

Amy Hatten can be reached at 824-7031 or ahatten@craigdailypress.com.

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