First Promoted, Then Mourned
Va. Native Shipped Out After Father's Return From Iraq

By Nick Miroff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 12, 2006

Brandon S. Asbury called his father from Iraq on Friday with good news: He'd been promoted to sergeant. Asbury had been in the Army for only 24 months, but the other sergeants on the board were very impressed.

"I told him I was very proud of him," said his father, Walter Asbury, a sergeant in the Virginia National Guard. "I said he'd probably reach a higher rank than I do."

But Asbury, 21, was killed the next day. According to a Department of Defense announcement, Asbury died in Baghdad after his unit -- the 4th Support Battalion, 1st Brigade, 4th Infantry Division -- came under small-arms fire. Family members said he was struck in the head by sniper fire while setting up a roadside checkpoint.

Asbury grew up in Tazewell, Va., in the Blue Ridge Mountains 130 miles west of Roanoke. At Tazewell High School, he played drums in the marching band and was elected grand marshal, or homecoming king, his senior year. He went straight into basic training after graduation, said his father, who is a 20-year veteran of the Virginia Guard.

Last December, a few months after he completed training at Fort Hood, Tex., the younger Asbury was sent to Iraq's Anbar Province, the country's most dangerous. "I was worried about him," said his father, who had spent 13 months in Iraq, ending last year. "I was in Mosul, and we took a lot of mortars and small-arms fire, but it wasn't as bad as where he went. He was in the worst part of Iraq."

Asbury said that his son "was a model person who never did anything halfway" and that he enjoyed his missions in Iraq, however risky. "He was a loving person," Asbury said. "I never heard a cruel word out of his mouth."

Family members remembered Brandon Asbury as a joker with a knack for physical comedy, "like Jerry Lewis," his older sister said.

"He'd make you laugh so hard that you cried," said the sister, Kelly Perdue. "You'd bust your sides laughing at him."

One costume of Asbury's featured plastic teeth, a mullet wig and a trucker's cap that read "Gooder than Snuff," and Asbury would use the phrase to lighten even the dreariest situation. When Army cooks would ask him if he liked the chow, Asbury would answer, "Gooder than snuff," Perdue said.

"He was one of the funniest people I've ever met in my life," said Jason Perdue, his brother-in-law, with whom he enjoyed camping, hunting and fishing. Asbury also loved NASCAR and the Green Bay Packers, Perdue said.

War, and the combat deaths of fellow soldiers from his unit, didn't dampen his humor, "even when he called from Iraq, even in the worst situations," Perdue remembered. "We were so worried, but he'd say, 'I'll be fine, just take care of everybody at home.' "

His mother, Diane Alberts, spent yesterday preparing for the drive from her home in North Carolina to Texas for a memorial service. Asbury's wife, Sherri, and her three children live near Fort Hood, where Asbury's unit was based.

"He always tried to make everybody happy," Alberts said. "He wanted to do everything for everybody and make their lives easier."

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