Thursday, February 22, 2018
Military News

Twice in one year, a soldier's death rocks small school in Indian Rocks Beach

They played on the same high school baseball team.

They ran with the same friends, graduated with the same class.

And they followed each other into battle.

The family of Staff Sgt. Matthew Steven Sitton, 26, learned Thursday that the Indian Rocks Christian School graduate died this week after stepping on an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan, just a month from returning home.

His death comes a year after friend and fellow graduate, Spc. Frank Gross, 25, died in similar fashion. Gross was 21 days into his first deployment.

The news was another tragedy for the school, with an enrollment of about 700, and its extended family.

"That just brings it home to the school once more," said superintendent Don Mayes. "It's another baseball player, another student from that class."

They were friends, but also competitors.

On the baseball team, where Sitton played center field and Gross pitched, they were always trying to outdo one another.

"But they were also very, very good team members," said Craig Gross, Frank's father.

The two friends graduated in 2004 in a class of about 50 graduates. Gross received his bachelor's and master's degrees from Full Sail University near Orlando. Sitton attended the University of West Florida and Southeastern University in Lakeland. But then he had a change of heart. He joined the Army in March 2006.

"He loved what he did," said his mother, Cheryl Sitton. "It was a great fit for him. . . . You'd give him a challenge and he would step up to it."

Gross soon followed his friend. Before enlisting, he asked Matthew for advice, Cheryl Sitton said.

Gross was deployed June 28, 2011. Less than a month later, he was killed after an explosive caused his vehicle to roll over.

After Gross' death, the Sitton family prayed with his parents. They attended his memorial service.

"It's a nightmare," said Craig Gross, Frank's father. "Something that nobody wants to experience."

One year later, the parents' roles would reverse. On Thursday, Antonia Gross, Frank's mother, called Cheryl Sitton after hearing the news.

"Unfortunately," Sitton said, "we're bonded in a deeper way than we were before because we share a grief that not many people know."

Matt Sitton's family is headed to the Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to bring home their son. Services are pending.

Steve Sitton, his father, said Matt always strived for the best, whether it was fishing or being a dad. So the thought of his son dying overseas never crossed his mind. "I never thought they would get him," he said. "He was always the first with everything. He would beat everybody at every game he ever played."

Sitton, stationed in Fort Bragg, N.C., was deployed for the third time in February. His son, Brodey, was about 2 months old, but Sarah Sitton, his wife of three years, made sure he never missed a milestone.

She sent him photographs of Brodey's first time crawling. His first meal.

On Father's Day, while the family Skyped, the baby said his first word.

Dada.

Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report.

Comments
Howard Altman: Expert from Lutz finds U.S. ill prepared for conflict in Korea

Howard Altman: Expert from Lutz finds U.S. ill prepared for conflict in Korea

Rick Lamb, who spent a good part of the past two years in South Korea assessing the state of U.S. forces on the peninsula, was taken aback by what he discovered."Overall, I was surprised how much it atrophied," said Lamb, a retired Army Ranger comman...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Syria’s starved, rebellious suburb under attack

Syria’s starved, rebellious suburb under attack

BEIRUT — The airstrikes came at a rate of one a minute, with horrible results: civilians fleeing collapsing buildings, children trapped under slabs of concrete, paramedics grimly rushing the bloodied victims away on stretchers. At least 100 people we...
Published: 02/20/18
Global commandos flock to Palm Harbor to discuss future of Special Operations

Global commandos flock to Palm Harbor to discuss future of Special Operations

Commando leaders from around the globe are coming to Pinellas County this week to discuss common threats in an increasingly unstable world.Most European Union members "are either growing or reinforcing" their special operations forces, French Maj. Ge...
Published: 02/20/18
Global commandos flock to Palm Harbor to discuss future of Special Operations

Global commandos flock to Palm Harbor to discuss future of Special Operations

Commando leaders from around the globe are coming to Pinellas County this week to discuss common threats in an increasingly unstable world.Most European Union members "are either growing or reinforcing" their special operations forces, French Maj. Ge...
Published: 02/20/18
ISIS ambush kills at least 27 Iraqi Shiite-led fighters

ISIS ambush kills at least 27 Iraqi Shiite-led fighters

BAGHDAD — Islamic State militants ambushed a group of Iraq’s Shiite-led paramilitary fighters, killing at least 27, more than two months after Baghdad declared victory over the extremist group, officials said Monday The Popular Mobilization Forces, a...
Published: 02/19/18
Planning begins for Warrior Games coming to Tampa in 2019

Planning begins for Warrior Games coming to Tampa in 2019

TAMPA — Army Gen. Raymond A. "Tony" Thomas III, the commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, had a court-side epiphany last July at the United Center in Chicago while watching the annual Department of Defense Warrior Games. So impressed w...
Published: 02/19/18
Howard Altman: Later AirFest good for fundraising

Howard Altman: Later AirFest good for fundraising

On May 12 and 13, the skies above MacDill Air Force Base will be busier than usual, with Navy F-18s, Air Force F-22s and A-10s and a host of civilian stunt pilots performing impressive feats of aerobatics.It’s all part of the semi-regular Tampa Bay C...
Published: 02/16/18
VA chief Shulkin, staff misled ethics officials about European trip, report finds

VA chief Shulkin, staff misled ethics officials about European trip, report finds

Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin’s chief of staff doctored an email and made false statements to create a pretext for taxpayers to cover expenses for the secretary’s wife on a 10-day trip to Europe last summer, the agency’s inspector general ...
Published: 02/14/18
Trump seeks 11 percent SOCom budget increase

Trump seeks 11 percent SOCom budget increase

President Donald Trump’s proposed military budget includes a nearly 11 percent spending increase for U.S. Special Operations Command headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base.The measure, if approved by Congress, would bump up the command’s budget by 1...
Published: 02/12/18
Everyone loves a parade? Veterans say the troops don’t.

Everyone loves a parade? Veterans say the troops don’t.

Orders from President Trump to plan a grand military parade showcasing the might of America’s armed forces has set off groans in some military quarters.The troops, it turns out, hate parades."There is not a soldier ever alive who loves a parade," sai...
Published: 02/08/18