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Missouri Army National Guard Sgt. 1st Class Robert Wayne Pharris, 48, of Seymour, Mo., died Jan. 5, of wounds suffered at Nangarhar Province, Afghanistan when insurgents attacked his unit using an improvised explosive device.
Pharris served as an agriculture specialist with Agri-Business Development Team IV.
“Sgt. 1st Class Pharris was the most energetic and enthusiastic Soldier I have ever met, and in many ways was the perfect Soldier,” said ADT commander Col. Michael D. Fortune. “Among his many great qualities, he was passionate about his work, tenacious and always ready to take on a new challenge. He was an infantryman to the core, but at the same time he truly cared for and looked after his fellow Soldiers.”
“Even as the Missouri National Guard’s Agri-business Development Teams have led the way in helping the Afghan people become self-sustaining, as highly-trained Soldiers and Airmen they also have courageously faced the ever-present danger there,” said Gov. Jay Nixon. “Sgt. 1st Class Pharris was part of this vital mission, and we greatly mourn the loss of this brave Citizen-Soldier.”
“The loss of Sgt. 1st Class Pharris is a loss felt across the entire Missouri National Guard Family,” said Maj. Gen. Stephen L. Danner, adjutant general for the Missouri National Guard. “Please keep his Family in your thoughts and prayers during this difficult time.”
Fortune described Pharris as a Soldier who was dedicated to his mission of helping the Afghan people towards a brighter future.
“Sgt. 1st Class Pharris embraced the Afghan people he was here to serve,” Fortune said. “He drank tea with the Afghans daily and constantly strived to learn more about their language and culture. While his death is a tragic loss, we must remember that he lived well and he died doing what he loved to do.”
Pharris was working as a liaison officer to 1st Squadron, 61st Cavalry at the time of the attack.
Also killed in the attack was Spc. Christian J. Romig, 24, of Kenner, La. He was assigned to 1st Squadron, 61st Cavalry, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), Fort Campbell, Ky.
Pharris was featured in an article in November 2010 with his son, a Marine Corps corporal, who was also serving in Afghanistan. In the article, Pharris said, “I came to Afghanistan to make a tangible difference. Hopefully, 20 years from now, someone will remember an American who was here and be thankful their life is better.”
ADT IV has been mobilized since June 2010, with a mission to train and empower local agriculture extension agents; hire local laborers; work with the Director of Agriculture, Irrigation, and Livestock to provide outreach programs and communicate with the villages; and emplace processes, procedures and controls to ensure gains in agricultural productivity can be sustained once the Agri-business Development Team mission is complete. Pharris served as a small ruminants (sheep and goat) expert on the team.
Pharris first enlisted in the Army in 1981, and later in the Army National Guard. Pharris had more than 14 years of service in a variety of assignments. Primarily serving as an infantryman, he has also served as a drill sergeant and recruiter. After leaving military service in 1997 and experiencing an 11-year break, he re-joined the Missouri Army National Guard in 2008 after he learned that an infantry unit was being formed.
Pharris deployed as a staff sergeant and was posthumously promoted to sergeant first class.
His military awards include: Army Achievement Medal; Army Good Conduct Medal, 3rd Award; Army of Occupation Medal; National Defense Service Medal; Global War on Terrorism Service Medal; Armed Forces Reserve Medal with Mobilization Device; Non-commissioned Officer Proficiency Development Ribbon; Army Service Ribbon Overseas Service Ribbon 2nd Award; Air Assault Badge and Missouri Expeditionary Ribbon.
Pharris is the Missouri National Guard’s 13th casualty in Overseas Contingency Operations since Sept. 11, 2001. He is the first loss from the Missouri National Guard’s Agri-Business Development Team program, which has been active since 2007.
Funeral arrangements are pending.
A feature story about Sgt. Pharris that was prepared by the Army last November can also be read in the Herald this week.