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Citrus soldier dies in Iraq

Published June 7, 2007


TAMPA - The week after Sept. 11, 2001, 19-year-old Robert Surber enlisted the Army.

Within four months, the 2000 Citrus High graduate was at boot camp.

On Sunday, the family in his hometown of Inverness received the news they never wanted to hear: Sgt. Robert A. Surber died in Thania, Iraq, after an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle. He was 24.

"He was the kind of little kid that when he saw something he wanted, that was it, " his mother, Kerri Surber, said Wednesday from her Inverness home.

He approached the decision to join the military the same way. Surber had taken odd jobs after high school, his mother said, but saw the military as an avenue to further his education.

His best friend, Jeremy Lentz, was fresh back from boot camp and encouraged Surber to join up, too.

"I was scared, " Kerri Surber said of his decision. "I was nervous - any mother would be. But I was proud."

Growing up the middle child and only boy, Surber loved Boy Scouts, playing Little League, following the University of Florida Gators and the Miami Dolphins, his mother said.

Some called him "Bobby." And his mother will always remember his quiet, distinctive laugh and his eyes - so dark you could barely see the pupils, she said.

When Surber died this week, he was on his second tour in Iraq. His original date of return had been May 29. But the military extended the tour another four months, his mother said.

In April, when Surber was home on leave for the last time, he spoke little of the war. His mother knew he was in field artillery. She knew he drove a Humvee, trained members of the Iraqi National Guard and was learning Arabic. She knew there were times he worked as a sniper. But he kept a lot of details to himself.

"When he came home on leave, he wanted to leave it behind. He wanted to be normal for a while."

The explosion that killed Surber on Sunday also took the lives of three others. All served in the 1st Battalion, 37th Field Artillery Regiment, 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, Stryker Brigade Combat Team, from Fort Lewis, Wash.

Lentz, the childhood buddy who encouraged his best friend to join the Army, will accompany Surber's body home from Dover on Saturday.

"He promised me he would be home by Christmas this year, " his tearful mother said. "I didn't know it would be like this."

Times researcher Cathy Wos contributed to this report. Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at 813 226-3383 or

[Last modified June 7, 2007, 01:16:47]

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