Baltimore County soldier died in Afghan Interior Ministry attack


A U.S. Army carry team moves the transfer case of Maj. Robert Marchanti during a dignified transfer at Dover Air Force Base February 27, 2012 in Dover, Delaware. Marchanti, of Baltimore, Maryland, was one of two U.S. military officers shot to death Saturday at the Afghan Interior Ministry in Kabul. (Win McNamee/GETTY IMAGES)
February 27, 2012

Before Maj. Robert Marchanti II was deployed by the Maryland Army National Guard, when he was teaching at a Baltimore County elementary school, students and teachers made a photo book for him. When he walked into the room the last morning, all the kindergartners saluted. “He was a big, burly, big tough guy, and he just turned into a marshmallow,” said Carney Elementary School teacher Beth Avil. “Tears came into his eyes, and he sat in one of the little kindergarten chairs to look through the book.”

Marchanti was a strong man, family and friends said, physically tough at 48, disciplined, committed to his family, his Christian faith, his country. And he was a softie. “He just gave his whole heart to everyone,” his daughter, Leah Marchanti, 20, said. “He loved sentimental things . . . like dancing with me. We always talked about the song we would choose when I walked down the wedding aisle.”

Her father died Saturday, one of two U.S. officers shot and killed at the Afghan Interior Ministry in Kabul, the Maryland National Guard confirmed Monday.

It was a death that had international impact. The United States, France, Britain and NATO pulled their personnel out of the Afghan ministries after the shooting. Along with the days of violent rioting that began after NATO said its troops inadvertently burned copies of the Koran, the attack has raised doubts about U.S. strategy in Afghanistan.

Closer to home, Marchanti will be remembered for the kind of impact that’s harder to see. He would have said he was just ordinary, doing what he was supposed to do, going to work, taking care of his wife, his daughter, his three sons and grandson, Leah Marchanti said. “But I felt like it was extraordinary. . . . You don’t see fathers taking care of families like he took care of ours.”

When he came in the door, he would always run over to his wife, Peggy, “giving her a huge disgusting kiss, putting his arms all over her . . . wanting to love up on her all the time,” his daughter said. “She acted like it was too much, but she loved it.”

He met his wife when they were in high school, working at a Friendly’s restaurant. She was scooping ice cream cones, and he was a cook. He took her to his senior prom, and they had been together ever since, their daughter said.

Marchanti joined the Army in 1984, then taught physical education and served in the National Guard for many years before going full-time with the Guard in 2008.

“He was a man who brought a warmth and calmness to any room he walked into,” said Melissa Warminski, a first-grade teacher at Carney. “If he put his hand on your shoulder or just looked at you and smiled, you knew everything was going to be fine. That’s the kind of guy he was.”

Marchanti always had that mix, with his imposing, military bearing but a sweet and loving attitude with the children, she said. One day the teachers were gathered for a group photo and the photographer kept trying to get them to stop chatting and line up. Marchanti suddenly barked, “Fall in!” Everyone snapped to attention, Warminski said, laughing.

“He was such a big guy, then as soon as you talked to him you knew he had a very warm heart,” said Bill Adey, another teacher. “Just like a teddy bear.”

Marchanti had a goofy side, embarrassing his children, hollering at Ravens games, pulling the car over suddenly to fish because he liked the looks of a pond they were passing by. He made his students laugh by putting on a 10-gallon hat and showing them how to square dance. He always cooked a big spaghetti dinner on Sunday nights for the family.

Warminski said she would remember Marchanti poking his head in the classroom door and offering to help by taking a child out of class for one-on-one tutoring. “Everyone would raise their hands — ‘Let me go! Let me go!’ ”

This weekend, two soldiers came to his house in Baltimore to notify the family of his death. “Now he’s everyone’s hero, not just mine,” his daughter said, “not just ours.”

Susan Svrluga is a Virginia rover for the Washington Post, covering anything and everything that’s happening in the Commonwealth.
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