By Jody Fuller
“I was a recruiter’s dream. I walked into the recruiting office on 2nd Avenue near Burger King and told him I wanted to join the Marines. Originally I wanted to join the reserves so I could just get my school paid for, but when I saw that I was failing out of school the second quarter, I decided to withdraw from Auburn, go active duty and join the infantry. I left for Marine Corps Boot Camp at Parris Island on Easter Sunday in 1994. My mom, a devout Catholic, did not think it was a good idea to leave for boot camp on Easter Sunday,” said the recently retired Maj. Bob Barber.
Barber, 40, was born at Lee County Hospital in 1974. He was the third of four boys born to Chuck and Jerry, both retired educators of the Opelika City School System. All four Barber boys – Chuck, Scott, Bob and Jon – graduated from Opelika High School.
He has many fond memories of growing up on Baton Court in North Hills subdivision.
“Kids played outside. I remember Dr. Raley painting the bases so we could play baseball. There were always plenty of friends around to play baseball, football or basketball,” Barber reminisced.
Not only were the four brothers actively involved in sports, but they were also actively involved with the Boy Scouts. In fact, three of them attained the rank of Eagle Scout, with Bob earning his in 1992, his senior year of high school. Like two of his other brothers, he was the starting quarterback for Opelika his senior season.
“I love Opelika football. Believe it or not, the best part of the Opelika football season was meeting D. Mark Mitchell for breakfast at Tyler’s on Saturday morning,” said the former quarterback.
Midway through high school, Barber realized he wanted to fly planes for a living, particularly fighter jets. Because Navy pilots had to land on air craft carriers, he felt the Navy had the best pilots. Eventually he applied for the United States Naval Academy but was not accepted.
He was accepted, however, to Auburn, where he enrolled in the Navy ROTC program. While going through orientation, he trained with active duty Marines. He learned a great deal from them, including the fact that the Marine Corps flies the same fighter jets as the Navy. He was so impressed with those Marines that he decided to switch from the Navy to the United States Marine Corps.
“I didn’t really perform that well my first year at Auburn. I think I had a 1.9 GPA my first quarter,” Barber said. “I didn’t have enough money to pay for another year. I was working part time and simply couldn’t afford tuition. That’s when I went to see the recruiter.”
Upon completion of Recruit Training at Parris Island, S.C., he was assigned to the School of Infantry at Camp Lejeune, where he would remain until his first deployment.
In late 1994 he deployed to the Caribbean with Joint Task Force (JTF) 160 in support of Operation Sea Signal, a United States Military humanitarian operation in the Caribbean in response to an influx of Cuban and Haitian migrants attempting to gain asylum in the United States.
The very next year, he deployed in support of Operation Provide Promise, which was a humanitarian relief operation in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the Yugoslav Wars.
In 1997 he was meritoriously promoted to sergeant. Also that year, he was selected for the Marine Enlisted Commissioning and Education program and returned home, where he re-enrolled at Auburn University. This time, he was more mature, more focused and more determined than ever.
While at Auburn, he met a girl. His life would never be the same.
He’d actually met her a few months earlier while home on leave. Their paths would continue to cross in the months ahead. He finally mustered up the courage to call her, and the rest is history.
In June of 1999 he married the former Cara Hooks of Anniston. “She is the most caring and compassionate person I have ever met,” Barber said. “She always knows what to say and what not to say or do and is always comfortable with everyone she meets. I wish I had her insight and compassion.”
One year later, he graduated and was commissioned as an officer in the United States Marine Corps. Shortly thereafter, it was discovered that he was color blind, so his dreams of becoming a pilot would not become a reality. Instead, he went into the Logistics field.
In 2001 after attending The Basic School at Quantico, Va., where he was named to the Commanding General’s Honor Roll, he attended the Ground Supply Officer’s Course. Later that year, the tragic events of 9/11 took place.
The young couple was incredibly excited about their life together and all the travel opportunities ahead of them; however, the nation was now at war, and their plans changed. “After 9/11 happened, she raised two wonderful children through three combat deployments to both Iraq and Afghanistan,” said Barber.
He served two tours of duty in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. On his second tour, he worked at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, where he served as the Executive Officer to an Australian Brigadier General. In 2008, he deployed to Southern Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
“(My son) Connor has endured all three deployments. On the second one, I dropped him off on the first day of first grade and then got on a plane. I returned to pick him up on the first day of second grade to take him home.
“When (my daughter) Abby turned four, I’d been deployed more than half her life. I left for my first deployment when she was just 14 months old, and when I came home, she was two and a half. Before I left she was a daddy’s girl, but when I returned, she wouldn’t speak to me for six months. Right about the time she was warming up to me again, I left again for a tour in Afghanistan.”
“So I’m looking forward to stability and being home and enjoying family time. Connor is incredibly smart. He maintains a 4.0 grade point average, whereas Abby has phenomenal musical talent,” he said.
“For anyone wanting to join the military, I would recommend finding the best service that fits his or her needs and personality,” Barbersaid. “The United States Marine Corps is not for everyone, but I think everyone can find a home in military service. Former Opelika Coach Spence McCracken used to say there are only two things that will make your son a man: football and wrestling. Well, I would offer that the United States Marine Corps will make your son a man. I love the Army, Navy and the Air Force, but I think the Marine Corps does the best job at building leaders and winning battles, as evident by their awesome TV commercials,” said the proud Marine.
His official date of retirement was Aug. 1, 2014. The family of four now resides in Saint Augustine, Fla., with Isabella, a 2-year-old Silky Terrier/Chihuahua mix, but hopes to return home to East Alabama one day.
Barber is working as an Operational Logistics Planner for the Marine Corps Forces in the Pacific.
The two-time Bronze Star Medal recipient said, “A lot of folks say that joining the military changed their life and that it was the best decision they ever made, or they don’t know where they’d be right now if they hadn’t enlisted.
“Well for me, the best decision I ever made wasn’t joining the Marine Corps; it was getting up the courage to make that phone call to Cara back in 1997.”