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MILITARY DEATHS

Army Sgt. Robert B. Thrasher, 23, Folsom; killed by a sniper while on patrol in Baghdad

March 11, 2007|Kurt Streeter | Times Staff Writer

Army Sgt. Robert B. Thrasher was a precocious, strong-willed teen who spent many a summer vacation playing mock war games on a remote parcel of land his family owned in British Columbia.

In thick forests, Thrasher hiked with 80-pound backpacks, hid in ditches and used paint-ball guns to best whomever he played with.

The simulated games gave him a taste of what being a soldier was like, and he loved it, said his mother, Janet Thrasher-Keen of Sacramento. "For the longest time," she said, "he wanted to join the Army."

Thrasher signed up just after graduating from Folsom High School in 2002. He was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 12th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division at Ft. Bliss, Texas.

Thrasher's mother and other family members said the military transformed him. They remembered him as a teen with immense curiosity who sometimes ran with a tough group of kids. Though smart, he often struggled with the constraints of school, finding it hard to focus.

Joining the Army helped cement the maturity and discipline he had worked for years to reach. Thrasher "just had this look about him" after he became a soldier, said his grandmother, Elsie Pfister of Orangevale, in the Sacramento area.

"He carried himself in a way that was different, a pride. He was very strong and dedicated," she said. "By being in the Army, he became an adult."

Pfister noted that as a teenager, Thrasher loved rollerblading and sports cars. He began dating his future wife, Christine, late in high school. Just before his initial deployment, in 2002, the couple married. Christine ended up following her husband into the Army. She is based at Ft. Bliss, Pfister said.

Being in the Army helped fulfill Thrasher's natural curiosity. When he was based in Germany, Thrasher and his wife made sure to take side trips to Austria, England, France and Italy so they could see as much as possible and he could learn more about European history and architecture and add to his wine collection.

During Thrasher's first tour of duty in Iraq, he told his family that he felt relatively safe since he had spent most of his time in a tank. He returned from that mission unscathed and was eager to return for a second tour, his mother said. But just before returning, he expressed reservations, knowing the level of violence had increased.

"I looked at my son and I knew that he was very afraid," said his mother, who last saw him in El Paso last fall, shortly before his redeployment. "Before, he was like, 'Don't worry, Mom, it will be fine.' This time it was different."

His worries proved prescient. On Feb. 11, Thrasher, 23, was killed by a sniper as he patrolled a Baghdad street. His family said the bullet killed him instantly. He was getting ready to "go home for the day and go back to the base," his mother said.

Terry Riave, Thrasher's government and economics teacher in high school, said that attending his memorial and hearing stories about how other soldiers looked to Thrasher for guidance offered a sense of solace.

At Folsom High, she said, he sometimes struggled. His mother said Thrasher had a learning disability and took special education classes.

At the memorial, "to hear how Robert became a leader, it just goes to show much more when you think about where he was when I met him," Riave said. "It speaks to the man he became. It was an amazing transformation."

In addition to his wife, mother and grandmother, Thrasher is survived by his father, Charles; a brother, Ian James Thrasher, 21; his stepfather, Jesse Keen; and three other grandparents, all of Sacramento.

kurt.streeter@latimes.com

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