|From The Intelligencer phillyburbs.com
Bucks soldier killed
By CHRISTINA KRISTOFIC
When children asked Army Sgt. 1st Class Shawn M. Suzch about his job, he would tell them, “My job is to get my men out safe and alive.”
“He constantly would say that,” said Rick Pforter, a former foster father and a close friend of Suzch’s. “He would e-mail us, and he said, ‘A good day is a day when we all come back alive.’ ”
Suzch, 32, who grew up in Bucks County and graduated from Pennridge High School, had many good days — the day he returned from his tour in Kosovo, the days he returned from his first and second tours in Iraq, and the day he returned home in September to see his wife and new baby girl.
But he will have no more good days.
Suzch and three of his men were killed at about 3 p.m. Monday in Mansour — a wealthy section of Baghdad that many consider to be a barometer for U.S. success in Iraq — when a man in his 30s approached them and detonated the bombs he wore on a vest. The U.S. Department of Defense confirmed the bombing by press time, but not the names of the individuals killed.
Four other American soldiers and an Iraqi interpreter were wounded. One of the soldiers died later Monday from his wounds.
The bombing was the worst attack on U.S. forces in Baghdad in about six months.
Rick and Abby Pforter of Coopersburg have known Suzch for 16 years and really worried about him during his first two tours of Iraq.
“Because it was the invasion and a lot of the insurgency was taking place,” Rick Pforter said. “We were feeling very positive about him returning this time because of the lull in fighting.”
Suzch was supposed to return in May to Fort Stewart, Ga., where he resided.
He grew up in the Levittown and Langhorne areas, Pforter said, and lived in foster homes in different parts of Bucks County.
Pforter said Suzch came from a broken family — his father was out of the picture, he hardly saw his mother during his teenage years, and he had two half-brothers who were also in foster care.
Suzch got in trouble with police when he was 13 for possession of drugs and spent some time at the Bucks County Youth Center, Pforter said. Suzch then lived with a foster family in Plumsteadville.
When he was 16, Suzch went to live at a Bucks County probation home in Hilltown that was run by the Pforters.
The Pforters had taken care of hundreds of children during the 20 years they ran the home, but Suzch was special.
He lived with the Pforters for nearly two years — his junior and senior years of high school. Rick Pforter said Suzch stayed with his family during the holidays because Suzch couldn’t go home to his biological family. Suzch worked hard to be a father figure to his younger half-brothers and became a big brother figure to the Pforters’ two sons.
He played basketball with the young Pforters.
“There was this one area (of the court) we called Suzchland because he would always sink 3-point shots from that spot,” said Brett Pforter, now 24.
Suzch got the Pforter boys into collecting trading cards. And he built snowmen and igloos with them in the winter.
“The fact that he was older made him kind of like a role model,” said Brett Pforter. “He was a real nice guy, level-headed; got along well with everybody.”
Rick Pforter said, “Anybody who knew Shawn just felt like this kid was a really good kid and was just a victim of his environment…He never wanted to go back to the youth center — not even to say hi to some of the kids. He’d say, ‘That’s not me anymore.’ ”
Pforter said Suzch knew in his junior year that he wanted to join the Army.
“I think, at first, he looked at it as he knew he wasn’t going to get into college and it was a way to finance college for him,” Pforter said.
Suzch enlisted during his senior year and spent his weekends at Fort Dix, N.J.
He graduated from Pennridge in 1994.
“Seeing him get that diploma was special,” Pforter said.
“It was the only time during the year and a half that he was with us that we met his mom. It was the very last time we saw her. Sometime or another, she had decided she would come and see him graduate. I think it raised hopes in his mind that maybe there was some hope for that family, but that never panned out.”
Suzch went to Germany after basic training. There, he met and married Angela, a German national.
Pforter said Suzch continued to try to be a father figure to his half-brothers and even had one of his half-brothers come and live with him in Germany for a year.
Suzch would call Rick Pforter long-distance for advice about raising the boy or for help finding the other half-brother.
Suzch eventually had a son of his own. But the baby was born with lung defects, and Shawn and Angela lost him in a year, Pforter said.
They had another baby — a healthy little girl named Alyssa Jayden — in September.
Suzch, who was promoted last year to sergeant first class and signed on for another six years of duty, focused on his family and his military career.
“I think he fell in love with it,” Pforter said.
“He talked about it all the time. ‘His men.’ He would say that a lot. When he told stories, he would say, ‘Yeah, my men. I had to get my men out.’ That became a family to him. It really did.”
And family was something Suzch had always wanted.
“That’s really the sad part about this whole thing. Because he finally got one…” Pforter said, trailing off.
March 12, 2008 8:09 AM