Friday, June 11, 2010

Army Sgt. 1st Class Robert J. Fike

Remember Our Heroes

Army Sgt. 1st Class Robert J. Fike, 38, of Conneautville, Pa.

SFC Fike was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 110th Infantry Regiment, Pennsylvania National Guard, Connellsville, Pa.; died June 11, 2010 at FOB Bullard, Afghanistan, from wounds sustained when insurgents attacked his unit using an improvised explosive device. Also killed was Staff Sgt. Bryan A. Hoover.

“These were experienced soldiers who had done other combat deployments and were dedicated to serving the nation and the commonwealth,” said Maj. Gen. Randall Marchi, commander, 28th Infantry Division. “It is a tragic loss and we send our heartfelt sympathies to their families and friends.”

Everything about Robert Fike's military career reflected a willingness to sacrifice. Each month, Fike made a roughly two-hour drive to specialized drills with the 20th Military Police Company in Johnstown.

"He was so respectful ... and really believed in what he was doing" said a friend.

"Sgt. Fike was, obviously, very proud of his work. I think the drive from his home to Johnstown was minuscule compared to his love for being a military policeman," said Command Sgt. Maj. Timothy Hileman, senior enlisted adviser of the 2nd Brigade Special Troops Battalion.

Fike's love of the military, in general, was ever-present, said his father, James Fike of Trafford.

"I think it was always there," said Fike, 63, a retired sergeant major in the Guard and a veteran of the Vietnam War. "He's third-generation military."

Robert Fike's paternal grandfather, the late Ross Fike Jr., and his maternal grandfather, the late Joe Balkovec, served in World War II.

Robert Fike will be remembered as a lover of the outdoors and an avid hunter and fisherman who would often wet a line at nearby lakes with his 12-year-old daughter, MacKenzie. A 1989 graduate of Penn-Trafford High School, Fike went on to earn a bachelor's degree in organic chemistry from Edinboro University in 1992 before joining the Guard in September 1993.

Both men will add a posthumous purple heart to a long list of military awards. In his 16 years of service, Fike served two overseas tours — Saudi Arabia from 2002 to 2003 and Iraq from 2007 to 2008. While in Iraq, he served with Hoover. Murtaugh called the men "military friends" and said they always looked out for the best of the troops.

"If somebody was feeling down, (Fike) always tried to cheer them up," Murtaugh said. "(Hoover) was always ready for the mission and never complained. They always looked out for the best for the men."

James Fike spoke yesterday while traveling with his wife, Christine, to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to meet their son's body.

"I think, under God's law, there should have been another commandment that parents should not have to bury their children," he said. "Today's going to be a day of reckoning. So far, this has felt like kind of a surreal episode, like a dream you keep thinking you'll wake up from. But today, we're driving to greet him ... see his flag-draped casket ... and it's all going to hit home."

Robert Fike joined the Pennsylvania Army National Guard in September 1993. In his 16 years of service he served two tours, one in Saudi Arabia from 2002 to 2003 and another in Iraq from 2007 to 2008. His awards include the Army Commendation Medal, Army Achievement Medal, Armed Forces Reserve Medal, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary and Service Medals and Iraq Campaign Medal.

Fike and Hoover previously served together in Iraq in 2007 and 2008 with the 28th Military Police Company.

They are the 35th and 36th soldiers of the Pennsylvania National Guard killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"He was a really good guy," said Sgt. 1st Class Sean McNerney, who used to work at the prison with Robert Fike.

Fike and Staff Sgt. Bryan Hoover, of West Elizabeth in Allegheny County, were on a foot patrol in the Bullard Bazaar in Zabul province of southeastern Afghanistan when they were killed in the 10:25 a.m. Friday blast, guard spokesman Cory Angell said Sunday.

Both were attached to the 28th Military Police in Johnstown, which also has a detachment in Greensburg, said Sgt. Major Scott Haymaker, who served with both men in the military police.

They had volunteered to go to Afghanistan with the guard's Company C, 1st Battalion, 110th infantry, which is based in Connellsville, when that unit shipped out in early January, according to National Guard officials.

"(Fike and Hoover) were tremendous leaders who took extra effort to make sure their soldiers were taken care of," Haymaker said Monday. "Both were up-and-coming (noncommissioned officers) who had great careers ahead of them. They were very well liked by their subordinates."

McNerney knew Fike as a corrections officer he said could be counted upon to do what was needed at the State Correctional Institution at Albion.

A prison official declined to comment Sunday.

McNerney said Sgt. Fike always treated people well and was good-natured and low-key. Fike was "a born leader," said McNerney, who works in a National Guard recruiting office in Erie.

McNerney, who is with the 112th Infantry and headed to Afghanistan in the fall, said he wasn't involved in the National Guard with Fike, who had served more than 15 years. But McNerney said the military is one large family and losing any member of it is difficult.

"It's tremendously hard," he said. "It's like losing your brother. It doesn't matter how well we knew him."

Mike Prince said he got "a sinking feeling in my stomach" when he heard Fike was one of them.

Prince is also a guardsman, recently back from Iraq, who used to work with Fike at the prison and had known him nearly a decade.

"He was a very nice kid," Prince said Sunday from Means-Flynn Post 615 of the American Legion in Conneautville. "A real good soldier."

Fike, 38, who had been deployed to Saudi Arabia in 2002 and to Iraq in 2007, was working with a provincial reconstruction team, "seeing what the villages needed," said his father, James Fike, of the Pittsburgh area.

"He loved the military, even though he did it part time," his father said. "He had a great love for the country, a great respect for this country, and he always felt he was doing the right thing."

James Fike also said his son valued being outdoors and his time as a father.

"He wanted to hunt. He loved to fish, and if he had spare time that's what he did," he said. "He loved being in the outdoors and loved being with his daughter."

Sgt. Fike leaves behind a 12-year-old daughter MacKenzie, who will spend her 13th birthday on Tuesday without her dad.

"Everybody loved him. He was a great guy. He was lovable. He loved his daughter. You go even on Facebook, my wife put a memorial on Facebook for him and he's already got so many comments on there. But he was just such a lovable guy," said Chris Fike, Robert Fike's brother.

His fellow soldiers are now remembering a man who told stories, encouraged others and had strong convictions.

"Sgt. Fike would always have something good to say, something funny to say to help pick you up and drive you. Always there," Sgt. Brad Bennett said.

"Sgt. Fike was definitely one of the funniest people I know. Any situation, he could, he would make light of it," Sgt. Michael McCloskey said.

"With the military, you hear about the war and people dying and you feel sorry for the family when people die, but when it hits home it's a completely different feeling that you have. I talk about these times and it tingles in my body," Fike said.

Army Sgt. 1st Class Robert J. Fike was killed in action on 6/11/10.

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