A 26-year-old soldier who grew up in Rockville was killed by an improvised explosive device in Iraq, the Department of Defense announced yesterday.
Army Spc. Armer N. Burkart was the gunner in a Humvee conducting combat patrols in west Baghdad when the vehicle was struck by the bomb Thursday.
Burkart was a cavalry scout assigned to the 1st Battalion, 71st Cavalry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, N.Y. He had served in Afghanistan from August 2003 to April 2004.
An A-student and 1997 graduate of Col. Zadok Magruder High School in Rockville, Burkart was a standout member of the school's ROTC program and that won him a full scholarship to attend Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa., said Sgt. Maj. John Ohmer, a social studies teacher at Magruder. But Burkart left Lehigh after two years, and joined the Army in July 2000, the teacher said.
Burkart was the first alumnus from the high school to die in Iraq, Ohmer said, adding that up to a half-dozen former students are serving in the war zone. He was the 44th soldier with ties to Maryland to die in Iraq.
"If I had a son, I would want him to be like Armer, as far as trustworthiness and reliability," Ohmer said. "I really liked the kid. I thought he had a lot of potential to be a dynamic leader in the military. He was the kind of kid that you said, 'geez.' He gained your confidence in today's youth by knowing a kid like him."
The soldier's father, John C. Burkart, reached at his home in Mount Dora, Fla., said he was too distraught to talk after speaking with other reporters.
"I can't do this," Burkart's father said, before hanging up the phone. Burkart told the Associated Press that both his son's grandfathers were in the Navy.
"He was a great guy," John Burkart told the AP. "He was proud to be in the Army."
The death of Armer Burkart is the second time the family has dealt with tragedy in recent years: Ohmer said that during Burkart's senior year in high school his mother died in a motorcycle crash in Florida.
"It was very devastating," Ohmer said. "I remember how distraught Armer was at that point. She was very much involved in his life. We would be at a drill meet in Baltimore and she would bring pizza and different things for the kids."
Burkart - who has a younger brother, John C. "Pete" Burkart III - missed about two weeks of school, Ohmer said.
"He was real inquisitive in school," Ohmer said. "When I taught a lesson, he would always interject and say, 'What if it went this way?' It was good. He was always way out there ahead of you trying to find out another reason why."
Acting Principal Leroy Evans said Burkart's death was announced to students yesterday.
"This is a major tragedy for our school community," Evans said. "We feel a great sense of pride that he served."
A member of the ROTC's drill team and the school's marching band, Burkart won two leadership awards in high school and rose to the rank of ROTC captain. After going over his records yesterday, Ohmer said that Burkart never neglected to wear his uniform the three times a month required of ROTC participants.
"You should have seen him," Ohmer said. "He looked better than any active duty solder. He just had that cut, you know, the look. He had that type of build that the uniform is designed for. The way he wore that uniform, he took great pride."
On Saturday, Ohmer said, he heard the news from a former student and close friend of Burkart's.
"I couldn't sleep Saturday night," he said. "I was so distraught."