Master Sgt. Robert Pittman is remembered by his family and friends as a leader who proudly served his country.
“‘Hero’ is not a word I use lightly, and Robert was a hero,” said Maj. Dave Groves, who knew Pittman while serving in Afghanistan in 2010. “Robert was an absolute consummate professional. If there was a mission to go on, if there was something hard to do, Robert was the first person to volunteer. He was always leading that charge.”
At 41 years old, only a few months after retiring from the Army, Pittman was killed in combat while serving as an Asymmetric Warfare Group consultant in Afghanistan in 2010.
Pittman’s legacy will be honored on Thursday at the five-year anniversary celebration of Asymmetric Warfare Group’s Pittman Range, named in his memory, at Fort Meade, Maryland.
His parents, Wayne and Vicki Pittman of Greenwood, will soon travel to attend the event held in honor of their son.
Groves describes the range as a “world-class” facility.
The 23,000-square-foot Pittman Range is a 50-meter indoor live fire range with a 14-lane firing bay, computer-assisted control room, classroom and storage room. Static line firing may be conducted from 5 to 50 meters.
The range is a much-sought-after training facility for military groups and law enforcement agencies.
“It’s a desired place to come and fire your weapons,” said Groves. “Most units or organizations don’t have something of that capacity or that level of technological advancement.”
The dedication ceremony for Pittman Range was held in May 2014. That’s when Wayne and Vicki saw the massive facility for the first time.
“It’s very impressive, and they have all kinds of Robert’s stuff” hanging on the walls, said Vicki.
Wayne said the range is large enough to accommodate 18-wheelers or police cars inside.
“They simulate real events that might come up,” he said.
Because Pittman made a big impact on a lot of people, Groves, who was Asymmetric Warfare Group’s headquarters commander when the range was built, said the decision to name the building after him was instant.
“It was a decision from the leadership that if we are going to name this range, we’ll name it after someone who was very important to this organization,” he said. “What would be an outward conveyance of what we want this organization to represent, to pay homage to someone who had been so important to the organization, and it was Robert Pittman.”
Each year, Pittman is also honored through Asymmetric Warfare Group’s Pittman Challenge, which is a physically and mentally demanding competition.
The challenge includes “grueling physical events with breaks, where we stop and pause and give remembrance to Robert and everything he represented,” said Groves, who competes in the challenge. “Everyone who is on the ground, even people around the globe who we have in different capacities, will take part and send pictures of what they do.”
Pittman was a 1986 graduate of Greenwood High School and attended Mississippi Delta Junior College. He was the older of two children; his younger sister is named Allison.
His mother and father said Pittman had always wanted to join the Army. Before he turned 21, his parents would not sign the release form for him to enlist.
“We kept trying to talk him into finishing college, because he was so smart,” said Wayne.
In January 1990, Pittman enlisted in the Army.
When asked what motivated Pittman to join the Army, Vicki said “John Wayne. I think he watched too many John Wayne movies.”
Wayne said his son did not like the idea of working inside a building or office all day to make a living.
“He wanted to be outside,” he said. “That was the reason the Army was so attractive to him. He could be outside and do all the stuff that you do in the Army.”
Not only did Pittman like being outside, but he had a passion for his work.
After completing basic training and Airborne school, he completed Ranger school and served in the 6th Ranger Training Battalion at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida. He was then assigned to the 187th Infantry Regiment at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, where he served as an infantryman, team leader, squad leader and scout squad leader. In August 1996, Pittman attended the Special Forces engineer course, where upon completion he was assigned to the 5th Special Forces Group in Fort Campbell in 1997.
With the exception of a two-year assignment with the 1st Special Warfare Training Group at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Pittman spent the remainder of his 20-year Army career with the 5th Special Forces Group.
While assigned to the 5th Special Forces, he served as a Special Forces engineer sergeant, sniper team leader, senior instructor for Phase II of the Special Forces qualification course, Special Forces operations sergeant and troop sergeant major.
He retired in April 2010.
Pittman had a distinguished military career, receiving numerous awards, decorations and badges. One of his awards was the Bronze Star Medal with the “V” device to denote heroism. It is the fourth highest military decoration for valor.
“Robert called and said I had to get a copy of USA Today,” said Vicki.
The date he said she needed to get was a few days old.
“I was on a mission,” she said. “I called every motel, everybody I could think of, and finally found a place that still had copies. I accomplished my mission. I think I got all that they had.”
USA Today’s Oct. 20, 2003, front page featured a story about Master Sgt. Tony Pryor, who earned the Silver Star and who was Pittman’s commander. Pittman, although unnamed in the article, is mentioned: “... seven Green Berets in the unit received Bronze Stars for valor in that fight.”
He was part of a team of 26 Special Forces soldiers who raided an al-Qaeda compound in the mountains north of Kandahar the year before.
Because Pittman was part of the Special Forces, his parents did not know many of the details of their son’s missions. But they were “super proud” of him, Vicki said.
They did, however, find out more information after Pittman passed away.
“After we learned more of what he did, my heart was just filled with pride,” said Vicki. “It was just bursting to know that he did all of that.”
“In the military, Robert was always out front,” said Wayne. “Many times, if he heard shots fired, he’d run to the shots being fired.”
Pittman began working with Asymmetric Warfare Group, an Army unit headquartered in Fort Meade, after he retired from the Army.
“He formed his own company, Southern Eagle Consultant LLC, and he did contract work, and he was actually working for AWG as a consultant,” said Wayne.
At the time of his death, Pittman was serving as an adviser to Lt. Col. David Flynn’s battalion in Afghanistan.
The Battle of Bakersfield, including information about Pittman’s death on July 30, 2010, is included in two books — “All In: The Education of General David Petraeus” by Paula Broadwell and Lt. Gen. Daniel Bolger’s “Why We Lost.”
Three died that day, and 12 were wounded.
Bolger’s book features Pittman advising soldiers during his time as a contractor. His advice taught small units in contact to maneuver rapidly and not in the ways the Taliban anticipated.
“Pittman argued for always seeking the harder path, not taking the obvious, inviting trail, which was invariably filled with IEDs.”
Buried in Arlington, Virginia, Pittman, who lived in Clarksville, Tennessee, was survived by a wife, Melissa, and two daughters — Loren, who is now 26, and Robbie, who is now 21.
“He did what he loved — being out on the field with soldiers, advising and assisting them,” said Groves. “Robert represented more than any of us who serve in this uniform could hope to represent, in my opinion.”
Groves said it’s important to Asymmetric Warfare Group to remember and honor Pittman.
“Robert’s legacy lives on. From the commander to the lowest level, everyone remembers and everyone knows,” he said.
“Robert was very important to this organization. He represented all of the values that we hope to convey.”
•Contact Ruthie Robison at 581-7235 or firstname.lastname@example.org.