Friday, May 25, 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

Security troops on U.S. nuclear missile base took LSD

WASHINGTON — One airman said he felt paranoia. Another marveled at the vibrant colors. A third admitted, "I absolutely just loved altering my mind." Meet service members entrusted with guarding nuclear missiles that are among the most powerful in Ame...
Updated: 12 hours ago
Their job was to guard our nuclear missiles. Their crime was buying, selling and using LSD

Their job was to guard our nuclear missiles. Their crime was buying, selling and using LSD

WASHINGTON — One airman said he felt paranoia. Another marveled at the vibrant colors. A third admitted, "I absolutely just loved altering my mind." Meet service members entrusted with guarding nuclear missiles that are among the most powerful in Ame...
Published: 05/24/18
Commandos to unleash fury in downtown Tampa, but it’s just a demonstration (w/video)

Commandos to unleash fury in downtown Tampa, but it’s just a demonstration (w/video)

TAMPA — Machines of war will unleash their fury in downtown Tampa on Wednesday afternoon, but it’s just a demonstration.Special operations forces from around the world are scheduled to stage a mock confrontation of good guys versus bad guys from 1:30...
Published: 05/23/18
Shopping Tampa for Ukraine commandos: Bomb-sniffers, drones and laser-proof sniper scopes

Shopping Tampa for Ukraine commandos: Bomb-sniffers, drones and laser-proof sniper scopes

TAMPA — Like a homeowner combing Home Depot for his latest project, Roman Mashovets spent a good part of Tuesday wandering the floor at the Tampa Convention Center.But instead of nails and plywood, Mashovets — a former Ukraine special operations forc...
Published: 05/23/18
CentCom’s Votel: U.S. will stay in Syria to fight ISIS and keep an eye on Iran

CentCom’s Votel: U.S. will stay in Syria to fight ISIS and keep an eye on Iran

TAMPA — In March, President Donald Trump said he would be pulling U.S. troops out of Syria "very soon." But they’re still there, and will stay there, to defeat what’s left of the so-called Islamic State, says the man in charge of military efforts in ...
Published: 05/22/18
As special ops conference opens in Tampa, CentCom works to ease commandos’ burden

As special ops conference opens in Tampa, CentCom works to ease commandos’ burden

TAMPA — As thousands of people flock to Tampa for the annual Special Operations Forces Industry Conference, the general in charge of U.S. forces across the Middle East along with Southwest and Central Asia said efforts are underway to reduce the stra...
Published: 05/21/18
Updated: 05/22/18
Trump announces he will nominate acting VA Secretary Robert Wilkie to become department’s permanent leader

Trump announces he will nominate acting VA Secretary Robert Wilkie to become department’s permanent leader

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump announced Friday that he plans to nominate Department of Veterans Affairs Acting Secretary Robert Wilkie to become the department’s permanent leader, noting that the decision may come as a surprise to Wilkie."I’ll ...
Published: 05/18/18
McDonald’s giving away free food to military members today

McDonald’s giving away free food to military members today

TAMPA— All current and former military service members in central Florida can stop by their local McDonald’s and grab a free burger today.In celebration of Military Appreciation Month, McDonald’s is giving away a "Taste of Thanks." All veterans and c...
Published: 05/17/18
Howard Altman: MacDill chosen to sell new Army-like Air Force uniforms

Howard Altman: MacDill chosen to sell new Army-like Air Force uniforms

Home to headquarters including U.S. Central Command and U.S. Special Operations Command, MacDill Air Force Base is at the forefront of a lot of important military action.Now it is taking on a new role — as a prime Air Force clothier.The flying branch...
Published: 05/16/18
Updated: 05/17/18
MacDill reviewing transportation plans after crowds jam roads for AirFest 2018

MacDill reviewing transportation plans after crowds jam roads for AirFest 2018

TAMPA — Tampa Bay AirFest 2018 pulled in a whopping 150,000 people and more over three days last week, including practice on Friday.But that proved to be more people than the transportation plan could handle, delaying arrival by hours for some and pr...
Published: 05/17/18