Monday, April 19, 2010

Army Sgt. Robert J. Barrett

Remember Our Heroes

Army Sgt. Robert J. Barrett, 21, of Fall River, Mass.

Sgt. Barrett was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 101st Field Artillery Regiment, Massachusetts National Guard, Fall River, Mass.; died April 19, 2010 near Kabul International Airport, Afghanistan, from injuries sustained in the explosion of an improvised explosive device while on dismounted patrol.

Five women comfort one another on the small deck of the Barrett family home, where two huge oak trees shade the backyard. Fall River has many rundown neighborhoods, but this one, Flint Village, is not one of them. The Barrett home is the only single-family house on a street of well-maintained triple-deckers clad in aluminum and vinyl siding. It’s always been a good place. One of the women says, “Nothing ever goes wrong here.”

Family and friends have gathered here because the Barretts’ son, Robert, 20, was killed serving in Afghanistan. They are awaiting word from the Army about when his body will be repatriated so that they can make funeral arrangements.

Choosing A Military Life

Carlene Barrett says her son, Robert, was fascinated by the military when his big sister joined ROTC and he was just eight-years-old.

“He just got interested in it from there, and when he joined high school, I mean, he just walked into it, and the military’s always been him,” Carlene says. Carlene and her husband knew their son would be a soldier someday, and there was no turning him around.

“I hated it, but I knew that’s what he wanted to do, and I knew once he turned 18, that there was nothing I could do about it,” Carlene remembers. “It was his choice. It was his life. We brought them up to make their own decisions, and to do what they felt they had to do, and that’s what he did.”

Robert himself had mixed feelings about going to Afghanistan. “He was scared. He was hoping for those people to see what we have over here, and he was hoping that he could somehow, someway, do the same thing for them,” Carlene says.

Melissa Baracewicc, Robert’s girlfriend, remembers the last time she talked to him. It was on Sunday. “He was excited. He didn’t like to stay back when all the other guys went off. He didn’t want to let his guys go out without him,” Baracewicc says.

Barrett was due for leave in June. The family found out on Monday that he was killed.

A Soldier And A Mentor

Robert’s father, Paul, has just come home. He’s holding a copy of his son’s birth certificate. “This sure wasn’t on my to-do list today,” he says. He says for two years in the Army, his son had worked for the honor guard, a ceremonial unit in the military.

“At the end, he buried three people in one day, and one of them was a friend of his. He was really broken up about that,” Paul says. “That’s when he decided he wanted to go. He wanted to make a difference.”

And so Robert asked to go to Afghanistan. Carlene says she was scared. “But, because he was going to mentor, we thought he was going to be safe, but I guess man makes plans and God makes others.”

Paul says a suicide bomber infiltrated the class of police officers his son was training at an Afghan base outside Kabul.

“This guy snuck in with stolen clothes, stolen uniform, was with them,” Paul says. “My son was mentoring like 20 of their Army guards. He was turning them into policemen. This guy had the vest under his uniform, and I’m assuming while my son was talking to him, he just decided to pop the button.”

Remembering Robert Barrett

Carlene remembers that growing up, her son was “your typical pain-in-the-butt kid.”

“He was there for anybody and everybody. He’d take his shirt off his back and give it to you if you needed it. He was just a wholehearted good kid,” Carlene says. Heather Ealy, Robert’s ex and the mother of his two-year-old daughter, says he was “a giant goof.”

“His favorite songs were ‘A Pocketful of Sunshine’ and ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry.’ And every time he had talked about joining, I would start to cry and yell at him for going, and he would start singing that in a very high-pitched voice trying to be Fergie,” Ealy said.

"You can't be prepared when they come knocking on your door. There were two gentlemen from the Army," Barrett's father, Paul Barrett, said. "And as soon as I opened the door, what can you say? And he said, 'Can we come in?' I said, 'I know what you are going to say, and I won't hear it.'"

Robert Barrett had been in Afghanistan only since March. In a poem he wrote before shipping off, he spoke of danger and hope.

"I volunteered to put my life on the line for freedom and country. For my fellow soldiers, for my little girl, for my weeping mother and father," Robert Barrett wrote. "I am going to a land where American freedom is just a dream, a hope, a slow reality. I am an American soldier."

"(He was) hoping to make a difference. Not for us but for them to have what we have," Robert Barrett's mother, Carlene Barrett said.

During his free time, the soldier was working at an orphanage in Kabul. His parents had just sent him care packages filled with flip-flops and toys for the kids.

A funeral with full honors is planned for next week.

"May the family of Sgt. Barrett find solace in knowing that this brave soldier gave the ultimate sacrifice while defending our nation," said Maj. Gen. Joseph Carter. "We also extend our heartfelt condolences to Sgt. Barrett's comrades in the 101st Field Artillery Regiment, particularly those injured alongside him. The entire Massachusetts National Guard family deeply mourns the tragic loss of this loyal and young patriot."

Army Sgt. Robert J. Barrett was killed in action on 4/19/10.

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