Advertisement
  1. Military

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

The marquee at Indian Rocks Christian School pays tribute to Staff Sgt. Matthew Sitton, who was killed in Afghanistan.
The marquee at Indian Rocks Christian School pays tribute to Staff Sgt. Matthew Sitton, who was killed in Afghanistan.
Published Aug. 11, 2012


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.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. This undated file photo provided by the FBI shows Mohammed Alshamrani. The United States is preparing to remove more than a dozen Saudi military students from a training program and return them to their home country after an investigation into a deadly shooting by Saudi aviation student Alshamrani at a Florida navy base in December 2019, a U.S. official told The Associated Press. [AP]
    Many of the 21 cadets had contact with child pornography and possessed jihadist or anti-American material, William Barr said.
  2. MacDill Air Force Base now requires all visitors looking to enter the base to show either Department of Defense ID or valid photo ID with a base pass. [Air Force photo] [HANDOUT  |  Air Force]
    U.S. installations have increased security as tensions with Iran run high, and that includes the bases and veterans’ facilities in the Tampa Bay area.
  3. MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa was briefly on lockdown Friday morning after reports of an armed person near the Tanker Way Gage. The lockdown has been lifted and all gates except the Tanker Way Gate have been lifted. [Times (2018)]
    McDill Air Force Base is investigating a report of an armed person, but a lockdown at the base has been lifted
  4. Rescue workers carry the body of a victim of an Ukrainian plane crash among debris of the plane in Shahedshahr, southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020. A Ukrainian airplane carrying 176 people crashed on Wednesday shortly after takeoff from Tehran's main airport, killing all onboard. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi) [EBRAHIM NOROOZI  |  AP]
    The cause of the crash is currently under investigation
  5. Coffins of Gen. Qassem Soleimani and others who were killed in Iraq by a U.S. drone strike, are carried on a truck surrounded by mourners during a funeral procession, in the city of Kerman, Iran, Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2020. A stampede erupted on Tuesday at a funeral procession for a top Iranian general killed in a U.S. airstrike last week, killing 35 people and injuring 48 others, state television reported. (AP Photo) [AP]
    The stampede took place in Kerman, the hometown of Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani, as the procession got underway.
  6. Traci Lenz said this is what her kitchen vent looked like even after mold remediation at her MacDill Air Force Base home. [Courtesy of Traci Lenz]
    Over the last year, families reported mold and other problems in military housing at MacDill and other bases.
  7. A woman mourns in a demonstration over the U.S. airstrike in Iraq that killed Iranian Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Tehran, Iran, Friday. Iran has vowed "harsh retaliation" for the U.S. airstrike near Baghdad's airport that killed Tehran's top general and the architect of its interventions across the Middle East, as tensions soared in the wake of the targeted killing. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi) [VAHID SALEMI  |  AP]
    Iran vowed “harsh retaliation” for a U.S. airstrike near Baghdad’s airport that killed a top Iranian general.
  8. Soldiers board a C-17 aircraft Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2020 at Fort Bragg, N.C., to be deployed in Iraq. (Melissa Sue Gerrits/The Fayetteville Observer via AP) [MELISSA SUE GERRITS  |  AP]
    The President ordered about 750 U.S. soldiers deployed to the Middle East as about 3,000 more prepare for possible deployment in the next several days.
  9. U.S. soldiers fire tear gas towards protesters who broke into the U.S. embassy compound, in Baghdad, Iraq, Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2019. Dozens of angry Iraqi Shiite militia supporters broke into the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad on Tuesday after smashing a main door and setting fire to a reception area, prompting tear gas and sounds of gunfire. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed) [KHALID MOHAMMED  |  AP]
    The embassy attack, one of the worst in recent memory, followed deadly U.S. airstrikes on Sunday that killed 25 fighters of the Iran-backed militia in Iraq, the Kataeb Hezbollah.
  10. Those who play in a foursome with Julius Okrzesik marvel at how straight he drives the ball. The World War II veteran, 99, is also regarded as one of the better putters at the Bardmoor Golf and Tennis Club in Seminole. [MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE  |  Times]
    Julius Okrzesik, who flew 87 missions over Europe, never misses a round of golf with his buddies each Tuesday.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement