Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Army Sgt. 1st Class Robert W. Pharris

Remember Our Heroes

Army Sgt. 1st Class Robert W. Pharris, 48, of Seymour, Mo.

SFC Pharris was assigned to Missouri National Guard Agri-Business Development Team IV, Jefferson City, Mo.; died Jan. 5, 2011 of wounds suffered in Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, when insurgents attacked his unit using an improvised explosive device. Also killed was Army Spc. Christian J. Romig.

SEYMOUR, Mo. — Missouri National Guard officials say a soldier from Seymour, Missouri, has died in Afghanistan.

Sergeant First Class Robert Pharris was killed January 5 when he and some fellow soldiers were hit by a roadside bomb.

The 48-year-old was an agriculture specialist and the first casualty for the Missouri National Guard's Agri-Business Development Team. SFC Pharris helped teach Afghan farmers about growing crops other than poppies.

SFC Pharris was born in Mansfield. His father was a farmer and Marine who served in Korea and Vietnam. His grandfather was a farmer and World War II soldier. His great-grandfather was also a farmer and World War I soldier.

SFC Pharris was featured in a November, Military News article talking about his experience with the Afghan farmers:

"I see a chance here to really make a difference," SFC Pharris said. "It would be interesting to come back here in ten years and see a farmer with his crops, a green valley here again, and to have someone tell them they learned that from an Afghan who was taught by an American. How cool would that be?"

The November article can be found at

Staff Sgt. Robert Pharris, 48, was serving in Afghanistan at the same time that his son, Benjamin, a Marine, was also there. Robert Pharris had previously served as an infantryman, drill sergeant and recruiter. He rejoined the Missouri Army National Guard in 2008.

"I surprised my son by having him show up at my re-enlistment ceremony," Pharris said last year in an interview with a military reporter. "He had no idea I was re-enlisting."

Benjamin Pharris declined to comment Saturday. Other family members and friends could not be reached.

Cpl. Benjamin Pharris recounts one of his childhood memories solidifying his decision to join, "When my mom received an award on the parade field, I knew that I would serve. The only question that was left unanswered for quite some time was which service I would join." Cpl. Pharris enlisted in the Marine Corps in 2007 after completing high school early.

Pamala Pharris, as wife and mom, maintains their Missouri household and tends to the family farm, where they raise sheep and South African Boer goats.

"She's very supportive and she's the queen when it comes to sending care packages," said Cpl. Benjamin Pharris.

Robert Pharris was raised in Mansfield. His father, grandfather and great-grandfather also served in the military and farmed.

Col. Michael Fortune, the commander of the agri-business development team Pharris was in, said in a news release from National Guard that Pharris had embraced the Afghan people.

"He drank tea with the Afghans daily and constantly strived to learn more about their language and culture," Fortune said. "While his death is a tragic loss, we must remember that he lived well and he died doing what he loved to do.

Spec. Christian Romig, 24, of Kenner, La., was also killed in the attack. He was from the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) of Fort Campbell, Ky.

The mission of the agri-business team was to help improve agriculture. Pharris was the team's expert on sheep and goats.

Pharris told a military reporter last year that his farm in Seymour is a 36-acre plot on which sheep and goats graze. He said the team was trying to convince farmers to adopt more effective farming techniques such as using drip irrigation.

"You have to understand that these people are still using farming methods from the Middle Ages," Pharris said.

"That is because their whole lives depend on what they grow, and these are the methods used by their fathers, their father's fathers, and so on. If the new methods do not work, they will starve."

ADT Commander Col. Michael Fortune called Pharris the most energetic and enthusiastic soldier he'd ever met and was in many ways the perfect soldier.

"Among his many great qualities, he was passionate about his work, tenacious and always ready to take on a new challenge," said Fortune in a statement to news media. "He was an infantryman to the core, but at the same time he truly cared for and looked after his fellow Soldiers."

Sgt. 1st Class Pharris is the first member of one of Missouri’s Agri-business Development Teams to be killed in action. The group in Afghanistan now is the fourth team the Missouri Guard has sent to help Afghanistan’s farmers develop a more modern agricultural economy.

"Even as the Missouri National Guard's Agri-business Development Teams have led the way in helping the Afghan people become self-sustaining, as highly-trained soldiers and airmen they also have courageously faced the ever-present danger there," said Gov. Jay Nixon in the news release. "Sgt. 1st Class Pharris was part of this vital mission, and we greatly mourn the loss of this brave citizen-soldier."

“The loss of Sgt. 1st Class Pharris is a loss felt across the entire Missouri National Guard Family,” said Maj. Gen. Stephen L. Danner, adjutant general for the Missouri National Guard. “Please keep his family in your thoughts and prayers during this difficult time.”

ADT IV has been mobilized since June 2010, with a mission to train and empower local agriculture extension agents; hire local laborers; work with the Director of Agriculture, Irrigation, and Livestock to provide outreach programs and communicate with the villages; and emplace processes, procedures and controls to ensure gains in agricultural productivity can be sustained once the Agri-business Development Team mission is complete. Pharris served as a small ruminants (sheep and goat) expert on the team.

Pharris first enlisted in the Army in 1981, and later in the Army National Guard. Pharris had more than 14 years of service in a variety of assignments. Primarily serving as an infantryman, he has also served as a drill sergeant and recruiter. After leaving military service in 1997 and experiencing an 11-year break, he re-joined the Missouri Army National Guard in 2008 after he learned that an infantry unit was being formed.

Pharris deployed as a staff sergeant and was posthumously promoted to sergeant first class.

His military awards include: Army Achievement Medal; Army Good Conduct Medal, 3rd Award; Army of Occupation Medal; National Defense Service Medal; Global War on Terrorism Service Medal; Armed Forces Reserve Medal with Mobilization Device; Non-commissioned Officer Proficiency Development Ribbon; Army Service Ribbon Overseas Service Ribbon 2nd Award; Air Assault Badge and Missouri Expeditionary Ribbon.

Army Sgt. 1st Class Robert W. Pharris was killed in action on 1/05/11.

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