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Fall River Mourns Lost Soldier, Mentor06:13
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Five women comfort one another on the small deck of the Barrett family home, where two huge oak trees shade the backyard. Fall River has many rundown neighborhoods, but this one, Flint Village, is not one of them. The Barrett home is the only single-family house on a street of well-maintained triple-deckers clad in aluminum and vinyl siding. It's always been a good place.

One of the women says, "Nothing ever goes wrong here."

Family and friends have gathered here because the Barretts' son, Robert, 20, was killed serving in Afghanistan. They are awaiting word from the Army about when his body will be repatriated so that they can make funeral arrangements.

Army National Guard Sgt. Robert Barrett (AP)
Army National Guard Sgt. Robert Barrett (AP)

Choosing A Military Life

Carlene Barrett says her son, Robert, was fascinated by the military when his big sister joined ROTC and he was just eight-years-old.

"He just got interested in it from there, and when he joined high school, I mean, he just walked into it, and the military's always been him," Carlene says.

Carlene and her husband knew their son would be a soldier someday, and there was no turning him around.

"I hated it, but I knew that's what he wanted to do, and I knew once he turned 18, that there was nothing I could do about it," Carlene remembers. "It was his choice. It was his life. We brought them up to make their own decisions, and to do what they felt they had to do, and that's what he did."

Robert himself had mixed feelings about going to Afghanistan.

"He was scared. He was hoping for those people to see what we have over here, and he was hoping that he could somehow, someway, do the same thing for them," Carlene says.

Melissa Baracewicc, Robert's girlfriend, remembers the last time she talked to him. It was on Sunday.

"He was excited. He didn't like to stay back when all the other guys went off. He didn't want to let his guys go out without him," Baracewicc says.

Barrett was due for leave in June. The family found out on Monday that he was killed.

A Soldier And A Mentor

Robert's father, Paul, has just come home. He's holding a copy of his son's birth certificate. "This sure wasn't on my to-do list today," he says. He says for two years in the Army, his son had worked for the honor guard, a ceremonial unit in the military.

"At the end, he buried three people in one day, and one of them was a friend of his. He was really broken up about that," Paul says. "That's when he decided he wanted to go. He wanted to make a difference."

Robert Barrett with his daughter, Sophie. (Courtesy Barrett Family)
Robert Barrett with his daughter, Sophie. (Courtesy Barrett Family)

And so Robert asked to go to Afghanistan. Carlene says she was scared. "But, because he was going to mentor, we thought he was going to be safe, but I guess man makes plans and God makes others."

Paul says a suicide bomber infiltrated the class of police officers his son was training at an Afghan base outside Kabul.

"This guy snuck in with stolen clothes, stolen uniform, was with them," Paul says. "My son was mentoring like 20 of their Army guards. He was turning them into policemen. This guy had the vest under his uniform, and I'm assuming while my son was talking to him, he just decided to pop the button."

Remembering Robert Barrett

Carlene remembers that growing up, her son was "your typical pain-in-the-butt kid."

"He was there for anybody and everybody. He'd take his shirt off his back and give it to you if you needed it. He was just a wholehearted good kid," Carlene says.

Heather Ealy, Robert's ex and the mother of his two-year-old daughter, says he was "a giant goof."

"His favorite songs were 'A Pocketful of Sunshine' and 'Big Girls Don't Cry.' And every time he had talked about joining, I would start to cry and yell at him for going, and he would start singing that in a very high-pitched voice trying to be Fergie," Ealy said.

Carlene takes out a poem written by her son about his service in Afghanistan. She says she can't read it without crying, so Debbie Lorendo, a family friend, reads.

I am a father, a son, a grandson, a cousin, a brother.
I am a friend, a mentor, a leader, a soldier.
I volunteered to put my life on the line for flag, freedom and country, for my fellow soldiers, for you, my little girl, for you, my weeping mother and father.

"That's my son in a nutshell," Paul says.

This program aired on April 22, 2010.

Fred Thys Twitter Reporter
Fred Thys reports on politics and higher education for WBUR.

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