Thursday, May 03, 2007

Marlon Harper remembered

True grit must run in the family.

Army Staff Sgt. Marlon B. Harper's warrior spirit never wavered, even after he was called to the deadly Middle East three times.

Neither did the spirit of his family falter, especially that of wife Stacy Harper, who supported her husband's career even though she was left at home to care for the couple's three children alone.

"He was a dedicated soldier, and she's a faithful, loyal wife and mother," said retired Army Command Sgt. Maj. Melvin "Walter" Babbs, Staff Sgt. Harper's father-in-law. "Deployments are part of the Army. Marlon knew that. Stacy knows that. We all know that. You just have to suck it up and carry on. But it hurts, that's the truth."

Staff Sgt. Harper, 34, was killed April 21 in Baghdad, Iraq, during a patrol after engaging combatants who were using small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades.

He leaves behind three children -- twin 10-year-old daughters, Jennifer and Jessica, and a 12-year-old son, Dominic.

Today, his casket arrives in Pensacola, where it will then be taken to Pensacola Memorial Gardens for burial.

Staff Sgt. Harper was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, out of Fort Hood, Texas.

"He was a soldier who loved his job," said Stacy Harper, 33. "He didn't like to be away from his family, but he was a patriotic person. He definitely loved his soldiers."

Stacy Harper moved to Pensacola last year with the couple's children to stay with her parents, Melvin and Pat Babbs, while her husband fought in Iraq. Now, with her soldier-husband gone, Stacy Harper and the children will stay in Pensacola.

"We're going to stay here now," she said. "This is going to be our home."

Stacy Harper is hurting now. Her father, the big-as-a-bear command sergeant major, hurts with her.

"Hey, baby girl, how are you doing?" he whispered to his daughter over the phone just days after the death, as she ran errands around town.

After the short phone call, Babbs sighed and pointed to a picture on the wall, a framed painting of a Buffalo Soldier given to him by his son-in-law back in July.

"He was a good man," Babbs said. "And he was fired up about the military. He wanted to make it a career. He wanted to retire here someday. But he loved his job, and he loved his soldiers."

Staff Sgt. Harper, an Army tanker, had been in Iraq since October and wasn't scheduled to return stateside until January 2008.

He joined the military in January 1993. He spent much of 1999 and 2000 on the Iraqi border in Kuwait, then made his first true venture into Iraq in April 2003. He stayed in Iraq through July 2004, fighting on the front lines and training Iraqi troops.

"We're pushing these guys pretty hard, and they're doing great," Staff Sgt. Harper said at the time to, a Department of Defense Web site. "In no time, they'll be ready to go out and do this by themselves.''

Babbs said that if anyone could teach armor and tank lessons to troops, it was his son-in-law.

"He was so serious on the job," he said. "He knew everything about tanks, friendly or foe. He studied them. Marlon was just a great noncommissioned officer, and there was nothing about a tank he didn't know."

Staff Sgt. Harper met his wife while serving at Fort Carson, Colo., where Babbs was stationed and living with his family in the early 1990s.

"We were on the same brigade combat team," the still-intimidating command sergeant major said. "But he knew me more than I knew him."

Eventually, Stacy and the young soldier met, and soon Babbs got to know the man better.

"He was a little reserved around me when we first got together," he said. "But I thought he was a great guy. The way he interacted with my daughter and the whole family was tremendous. He fit right in."

Babbs said Staff Sgt. Harper never talked about the politics of Iraq. Only about his job, his men and the mission at hand.

"We are soldiers," Babbs said. "The politics aren't our concern. He had a job to do, and did it -- no questions asked. And he did it well."

And now the grit of the father has been passed onto the children, who stayed in school in the days following their father's death even though they were facing the greatest tragedy they could ever dream of. Stacy Harper wanted them to stay in routine, talk with friends, to face the uncertain future.

"They're soldiers," Stacy Harper said, "like their Dad."

From the Pensacola News Journal

Related Link:
Marlon B. Harper dies of 'wounds from contact with enemy forces using a rocket propelled grenade and small arms fire during combat operations'