The 12 U.S. service member to die from COVID-19 has been identified as a decorated soldier with the North Dakota National Guard and former Alaska state trooper.
Master Sgt. Robert Lawson, 48, who died Nov. 24 at a hospital in Minot, was a veteran who served with the North Dakota, Alaska and Oklahoma National Guards across a span of 30 years. He leaves behind a wife and nine children, including four under the age of 16.
Lawson was a member of the Fargo-based 141st Maneuver Enhancement Brigade whose most recent assignment was as operations sergeant for the unit. According to a state National Guard spokesman, he had not been activated for COVID-19 response in the state, which has experienced a surge in coronavirus cases over the past month.
"We are deeply saddened to share with you the loss of one of our National Guard soldiers," state officials said in a release. "We ask that you please keep Master Sgt. Lawson's family and friends in your thoughts and prayers."
Lawson served in Iraq with the North Dakota National Guard's 141st Engineer Combat Battalion. He received the Bronze Star for his work during that deployment. His other military awards included three Army Commendation Medals, an Army Achievement Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal and Iraq Campaign Medal with two campaign stars.
According to his obituary, Lawson was raised in Haines, Alaska. A member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, he spent his two-year mission in Provo, Utah. He joined the National Guard in 1990 and worked as an Alaska State Trooper from 2006 to 2014.
In North Dakota, he worked as a supervisor for an energy technology company and was employed by a construction company at the time of his death.
Lawson was the fourth U.S. service member this month to die as the result of the pandemic.
COVID-19 has taken the lives of one active-duty sailor, six Army Reserve members and five National Guardsmen.
As of Nov. 30, 79,020 military personnel have tested positive for the COVID-19 and 832 have been hospitalized.
The Defense Department has seen the number of cases among U.S. troops rise dramatically in the past 30 days, up 39%, or 22,300 -- more than the number of personnel and civilian employees assigned to Hill Air Force Base or other large military installation.
As of Monday, 117,736 military personnel, family members, civilian employees and contractors are currently fighting or have recovered from COVID-19. In addition to the 12 service members, 78 civilians, 8 family members and 31 defense contractors have died.
The Department of Veterans Affairs is seeing a rise in cases at rates not previously seen during the pandemic. COVID-19 cases across the VA system have more than doubled since the beginning of November, up 144% to 15,765 as of Wednesday.
Since the pandemic began, 112,894 veterans, employees and other persons under VA care have tested positive for the virus and 5,022 have died.
As of Wednesday, the U.S. had recorded 13.7 million cases of COVID-19 and 270,881 deaths from the illness, according to Johns Hopkins University. Worldwide, nearly 1.5 million people have died.
-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Monster.com. Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.