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Another soldier from Indian Rocks school killed in Afghanistan

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 10:45 PM

They were close friends at a small school in Largo with a graduating class of about 50.

Matt Sitton was center fielder for the Indian Rocks Christian School high school baseball team. Frank Gross pitched and played catcher.

The two, said their mothers, were fierce competitors who always tried to outdo each other. Part of a group of friends who liked to make crazy videos, they graduated in 2004, each eventually finding his way to the Army.

Last year, Gross, 25, was killed in Afghanistan.

Thursday night, the Sitton family was visited by a soldier and a chaplain.

Even before they walked into the house, Cheryl Sitton said, she realized that her son, 26, had joined his friend in making the ultimate sacrifice.

"My other son Jonny came into my room and said, 'Mom, there are two guys who want to see you and dad.'"

It was about 9 p.m.

"I just knew," she said.

Growing up, Matt Sitton loved to have fun, his mother said.

"He was very adventuresome as a child," she said. "If he could figure out a way to do something, he would do it."

One of his favorite things, she said, was making videos "doing the stupidest things.

"They would be standing on the road, pretending to be hitting each other with a baseball bat or riding skateboards into bushes," she said.

But Sitton's real passion was baseball.

"He was an amazing centerfielder," said his mom. "He loved baseball. As a kid he would sleep with his ball and glove and bat all the time."

Matt Sitton started out as an Atlanta Braves fan, "but for the last 10 years or more, he was a Rays fan. He was die-hard."

As Matt Sitton grew from child to man, he swapped out his ever-present baseball togs for an Army battle dress uniform.

"He loved the Army," said Cheryl Sitton. "He believed in what he did."

In 2007, as he was getting ready for his first deployment to Afghanistan, Matt Sitton found his soul mate.

"I just wanted to bless a soldier and be a pen pal and be an encouragement," said Sarah Sitton. Two years later, on the Fourth of July, the couple were married.

Matt Sitton would have two more deployments to Afghanistan, in 2009 and again on Feb. 28 – his 26th birthday.

That was the last time Matt Sitton saw his family. They went to Fort Bragg to see him off.

Matt Sitton kept in touch with his family mostly by Skype, said his mother. His brother is a wide receiver with the University of South Florida Bulls.

He regularly Skyped with his wife and their son Brodey, who was just 2 -and-a-half months old when his dad left.

Cheryl Sitton said she remembers the last time she talked with her son on Skype.

It was about two weeks ago. They mostly talked about family and life and home. The wife he missed. The son he cherished.

But in that last Skype session, there was something foreboding.

"He mentioned things were getting kind of dangerous over there," she said.

Sarah Sitton said her last conversation with her husband was on Sunday. They were planning on visiting Fort Bragg today to look for a place to live.

On Thursday, Matt Sitton was on a foot patrol when he stepped on an improvised explosive device, joining his good friend and teammate Frank Gross among the more than 2,000 men and women who have died in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

His son never got to know him, but Cheryl Sitton said her grandson is just like his dad.

Brodey "has no clue what is going on," she said. "He is the sweetest little smiley face guy you will ever meet. Just like his daddy."

Sitton said that one day, she will sit down with her grandson and talk about his dad.

"I will tell him what an amazing man," she said, fighting back tears. "How he loved his Lord, and how he loved his family."

Saturday, instead of going to look at a house, Sarah Sitton and her in-laws will instead fly to Dover Air Force Base, where they will watch Staff Sgt. Matt Sitton's body come off an airplane in a flag-draped coffin.

"My whole life, every plan that I made, stopped on Aug. 2, 2012," Sarah Sitton said.

Toni Gross, who serves as president of the local chapter of the American Gold Star Mothers Inc., knows too well the pain her friend Cheryl Sitton is feeling.

The two women spent hours together, watching ball games, raising money for the small class that would lose two sons to war.

On July 30, 2011, she saw Matt Sitton for the last time. It was at a memorial service for her son Frank.

"I hugged Matt and gave him a T-shirt of Frank's," she said.

Friday, it was Gross' turn to offer comfort.

"I let her know we are there for her," said Gross.


haltman@tampatrib.com (813) 259-7629

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