Thomas J. Barbieri wanted to be a soldier throughout his life. His sense of duty was evident all along, and it was combined with a sense of humor and artistry that were every bit as evident.
A gunner for the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division, T.J. Barbieri died at the age of 24 on Aug. 23, when his patrol encountered enemy forces small arms fire during combat operations south of Baghdad, Iraq.
"He had insights into things far above what most kids have," said his father, Thomas Barbieri. "It was pretty much a resolve that he had. … He was committed to duty, and I think he got a certain amount of satisfaction from helping people."
T.J., as he was known to his family and friends, grew up in Gaithersburg. Laura Bradbard is a family friend who met T.J. more than 12 years ago, when T.J. was a middle-schooler. Even then, Bardbard said, "T.J. didn't match any cliché.
"T.J. wasn't an athlete, per se. I think that's why I found him so intriguing," Bradbard continued. "He was very much an artist, but he was also a comedian. … He could take the entire world and reduce it to a one-liner."
This ability is evident in an online list of T.J.'s favorite war movies, a diverse group that includes "Saving Private Ryan," "Forrest Gump" (for its Vietnam scene), "Platoon," "Band of Brothers" and "Patton." He appreciated great movies from all possible political angles; it was the trite ones for which he had little patience.
T.J. ALSO HAD a sense of justice. He'd see crises in the news and want to play a part in changing it for the better, Bradbard said. This is part of what attracted him to Rockville Volunteer Fire Department, and later to the military.
T.J. attended Thomas Wootton High School, where he played junior varsity football. Before his senior year, he transferred and graduated from Poolesville High School.
After graduation, T.J. took classes at Montgomery College and volunteered as an emergency medical technician with Rockville Volunteer Fire Department. He was on the ambulance, responding to emergency calls. "It was a step that aided his maturation," his father,Thomas Barbieri, said. "It was something that he wanted to learn."
In 2004, T.J. later enlisted in the U.S. Army, and after basic training, he qualified for jump school at Basic Airborne Course in Fort Benning, Ga. From there, he was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, N.C. He trained as an infantryman, and served as a gunner when he was overseas. "He was a gunner, which is a pretty difficult job, even for their standards," Thomas Barbieri said.
In 2005, T.J. served on a six-month mission in Afghanistan to support the country's elections, according to the 82nd Airborne. He completed his mission, returned to Fort Bragg, N.C., and was then assigned to support Operation Iraqi Freedom.
WHILE OVERSEAS, T.J. didn't talk much to his family about combat. For him, his military duty was a day at the office. "These young men, they consider it their job, and they're humble in their work," Thomas Barbieri said. Instead, T.J. wanted to talk about his family — his one back at home, and his new brothers in combat.
"A lot of friends he made in the Army were our friends," Thomas Barbieri said. One of them accompanied T.J.'s body on the flight home.
The Barbieri family is especially close-knit, Bradbard said. This is especially true of T.J. and his brothers David, 27, Stephen, 21 and Matthew, 19. They appreciate the praise they have heard from those who served with T.J. in the Army, Thomas Barbieri said. "The recognition that he was a brave solider by his peers really helps."
T.J. Barbieri is survived by his parents Thomas and Carolann Barbieri, and his brothers David, Stephen and Matthew.