Saturday, March 17, 2007

Robert M. Carr dies of injuries from I.E.D.

His dream was to become an ultimate fighter — he became an ultimate hero.

Army Sgt. Robert Carr, 22, a specialist with the 1506th Infantry Battalion stationed in Baghdad, was killed at 1:13 a.m. Iraq time Tuesday when a vehicle he was driving rolled over an Improvised Explosive Device, or booby trap.

Robbie, as his friends and family often called him, joined the military after 9/11, following in the footsteps of his older brother, Matthew. The soldier, who was described as fun and athletic, was serving his second tour in Iraq. Robert was expected home on leave in a couple weeks to celebrate his anniversary with his wife, Nina, which was April 10.

The two were planning a second wedding ceremony with local friends and family. Instead, his family is left planning a funeral.

"I was here by myself, and two soldiers came in full dress uniform. As soon as I saw them in uniform, I knew. It was like my worst nightmare coming true," Nina said, her voice cracking as she sat on her father’s-in-law tan couch where she spent hours each day sending instant e-mails to her husband overseas.

"Every time he went out, I said, ‘Be safe,’ and he said ‘I will,’ and we always said I love you. Then he said he will call when he got back from his mission," she said.

As loved ones gathered in the Fowler home, bringing dishes of food and offering their condolences Wednesday evening, Nina read through prayers and poems reflecting the type of life her husband led.

His stepmother, Cathy Carr, described Robbie as a typical brother who loved to pick on his sisters and was close to his family. She said he had "a very giving heart" and was looking forward to a chicken enchilida dinner when he returned.

His stepbrother, Tom Fabian, said he is "shocked and angry," and still trying to grasp the fact that Robbie is not coming back.

Tom said Robbie talked of becoming a police officer after his enlistment was up in November 2008, and said he did not want to go back to Iraq.

In Champion, Christine Wortman held her son’s picture, unsuccessfully trying to hold back tears. She cried in short bursts. Her husband, Bill, held her.

Robert’s sisters, Rachel Carr and Brittany Wortman, sat on the floor reminiscing about how their brother always found ways to make them laugh.

He was always playing games with his sisters, wrestling with him and telling jokes.

"He wanted to make us smile," Rachel said. "He was the kind of person that you couldn’t stay mad at for a long time."

Brittany described Robert as a man with a big heart.

"If he saw that he made any one of us upset, he would always find a way to apologize," she said.

Robbie played multiple sports in high school — football, cross country, wrestling — and he practiced karate and was a powerlifter.

"What he wanted most of all was to play football in his senior year, but he hurt his leg and couldn’t play," Christine said. "It didn’t matter. He went to every game. He was the team’s best cheerleader."

"He was always our hero," Christine said. "Now he’s everyone’s hero."

Robert joined the Army in his junior year in high school with his best friend, Jeremy Jenkins. He wanted to follow his older brother, Matthew Carr, who had joined four years earlier. He also had an older sister, Jennifer Brady, who serves in the Air Force.

"He wanted to be a career soldier," Christine said. "He wanted to join for 20 years. I told him we should start at four years and go from there."

He graduated from Champion High School in May 2002. Two days later, he was leaving for basic training.

"He wanted to serve his country," she said.

Although Robbie initially wanted to make the military a career, after his marriage a year ago to Nina Villio, he began thinking of his life after the military.

"My son really loved to be with his family," Christine said. "He loved family outings and family get-togethers. Family time was very important to him."

"At first, I was mad at him joining the Army," Matthew said in a phone call from New York, where he is stationed. "I was just coming back from a tour in Iraq and didn’t want to see any of my relatives go and see what I had seen and experienced. But he was hard-headed and did what he wanted."

However, Matthew said he respected his younger brother.

"I’ve always been proud of him."

Matthew was wounded while in Iraq by a rocket-propelled missile. He also was wounded while escorting a prisoner in Afghanistan.

The brothers e-mailed one another a week before Robert’s death.

"He was looking forward to coming home," Matt said. "He told me he was going on one of his last missions. I told him to be careful."

Now stationed in Fort Drum, N.Y., Matthew is trying to convince the military to allow him to be his brother’s special escort home.

As the special escort, Matthew would meet and identify his brother’s body when it arrives in the United States. And then he would arrange to get him in his dress uniform and escort him back to his home in Trumbull County.

The Wortmans learned of Robert’s death when they arrived home from a doctor’s appointment. A white van was in their driveway. As two soldiers stepped out of the vehicle, Christine knew something bad happened to her son.

"When Matt was wounded in Afghanistan, he told us not to pay attention to anything we saw in the news about his unit," Bill said. "He said they would know if something had happened to him if two soldiers came to their house."

Christine spoke to her son about a week before his death.

"It was so good to hear his voice," she said.

Cathy Carr, Robert’s stepmother, and his father, Jeff, prayed daily that all their children would return home safely.

"He was a hero and he died doing a heroic job," Nina said.

From the Chronicle