Tuesday, August 21, 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
Update: Reader recognizes name of Vietnam casualty — and has a better photo

Update: Reader recognizes name of Vietnam casualty — and has a better photo

David Loeb read the paper on Saturday, and a story took him back to 1967, to boot camp at Parris Island, to one of the other Marines in his platoon.At his Clearwater apartment, Loeb pulled out an old yearbook and searched for Ruben Bell Jr.’s picture...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Howard Altman: Afghan journalist struggles to work among hazards of his war-torn home

Howard Altman: Afghan journalist struggles to work among hazards of his war-torn home

From afar, Afghan journalist Massood Sanjer has been watching horrors unfolding in his homeland with great concern.During his time here in the United States as part of a State Department-sponsored visit, the city of Ghazni was besieged by the Taliban...
Published: 08/15/18
Updated: 08/17/18
MacDill says its economic impact jumped 8 percent in three years

MacDill says its economic impact jumped 8 percent in three years

TAMPA — MacDill Air Force Base has long been a key driver of the Tampa Bay economy, spending billions on payroll, construction and retiree pensions.But just how much of a powerhouse the base is depends on how you look at the numbers presented Wednesd...
Published: 08/15/18
Updated: 08/16/18
What’s it like for military families who have to move so often? Meet the Snelsons

What’s it like for military families who have to move so often? Meet the Snelsons

Alexandra Snelson sat on a brown leather couch between her younger sister and her mother and talked about what it’s like to pick up and move again and again as a military child.In June, she was introduced to her sixth home.She is only 10."Well, I do ...
Published: 08/13/18
Processing system will speed claims, care, new VA secretary tells Tampa crowd

Processing system will speed claims, care, new VA secretary tells Tampa crowd

TAMPA — Speaking to a gathering of the nation’s oldest veterans service organization, Robert Wilkie introduced himself Friday as new Department of Veterans Affairs secretary and touted a plan to fix one of the oldest challenges facing those who serve...
Published: 08/10/18
Howard Altman: Homeless veteran finally agrees to leave the woods behind

Howard Altman: Homeless veteran finally agrees to leave the woods behind

Thomas "T-Man" Brown called me up Wednesday afternoon with news that came as a welcome surprise.A former Army staff sergeant who works with Tampa Crossroads helping homeless veterans, Brown was exuberant."Randy the roofer is finally coming out of the...
Published: 08/09/18
SOCom rolls out plans for 2019 Warrior Games in Tampa

SOCom rolls out plans for 2019 Warrior Games in Tampa

TAMPA — U.S. Special Operations Command, which synchronizes the global war on terror, is gearing up for a new mission.The command is working to make sure the Department of Defense Warrior Games, which are coming to Tampa next year between June 21 and...
Published: 08/07/18
Updated: 08/12/18
Proponents win effort to have traffic signal installed in front of Haley VA hospital

Proponents win effort to have traffic signal installed in front of Haley VA hospital

TAMPA — They worked it like a military campaign — Operation Traffic Signal.It wasn’t exactly the Normandy landings, but lives will be saved, proponents promise, with their victory in a four-year effort to get a traffic signal installed in front of th...
Updated one month ago
Questions arise over active military burn pits as Bilirakis moves to help victims

Questions arise over active military burn pits as Bilirakis moves to help victims

PALM HARBOR — As Congress takes up legislation to help veterans exposed to toxic burn pits overseas, military leaders acknowledged Wednesday that one pit still operates in Syria — as well as smaller pits throughout the Middle East where the waste tha...
Updated one month ago
Epilogue: Michael DeLong, retired Marine three-star and former CentCom deputy commander, has died

Epilogue: Michael DeLong, retired Marine three-star and former CentCom deputy commander, has died

TREASURE ISLAND — Like a lot of young men, Michael P. DeLong got some important life advice from his father.But unlike most men, Phillip DeLong was a Marine colonel and fighter pilot who had the distinction of being an ace in World War II and Korea.T...
Updated one month ago