The U.S. Army brought out the best qualities of Brittany Bria Gordon.
She was a go-getter, a leader, friends said, and military service gave her a chance to shine.
On Monday, those who had celebrated the soldier’s accomplishments now had to grapple with grief. Gordon, 24, of St. Petersburg, was killed Saturday by an improvised explosive device while serving with the infantry in Afghanistan.
Gordon, who held the rank of specialist, was apparently the first female soldier from the Tampa area killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Pentagon said. She was serving with a unit from Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Tacoma, Wash.
Gordon’s relatives traveled Monday to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware to collect her body. She was the daughter of St. Petersburg Assistant Police Chief Cedric Gordon and his former wife, Brenda Gordon.
“I know that Chief Gordon was extremely proud of Brittany and all that she accomplished in her life,” Police Chief Chuck Harmon said. “Her life of service and especially service to her country stand as a testament to the type of person she was.”
Cedric Gordon is commander of administrative services, one of the police department’s three bureaus. He joined the force in 1980 and worked held several positions until his promotion to the rank of assistant chief in 2005.
“This loss is devastating,” Harmon said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with Chief Gordon and his family during this time of unimaginable grief. We know that the coming days will be extremely difficult and we will stand by ready to offer our support to Chief Gordon and his family in whatever manner possible."
The family will begin planning for their daughter’s funeral service when they return from Delaware, police spokesman Mike Puetz said.
About 20,000 of the 205,000 service members serving in Afghanistan are women. As of February, 144 military women were killed and 865 wounded in combat and noncombat incidents in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Gordon graduated from St. Petersburg High School six years ago. Her former social studies teacher said she visited him a few months ago when she happened to be in town.
“She looked great. You could tell she’d been working hard to get where she was going,” said Lee Bryant. “She was very happy, very excited.”
Bryant said he told his class on Monday that his former student and St. Petersburg High alumnus had died.
“A lot of the kids were visibly shaken at the fact that it was one of our own that his happened to,” Bryant said.
The teacher recalled Gordon was a good student who was loved and admired by her peers.
“She was a really good kid, real proud to be in the Army,” he said. “It just brought out what was already good in her.”
St. Petersburg High basketball coach Chris Blackwell said Brittany Gordon was the team’s manager when she was at the school. Blackwell said Gordon found her calling when she joined the Army.
“She found her love and she enjoyed it,” he said.
Blackwell said Gordon’s ambition was to be the best in what she did.
“Brittany was a go-getter. She didn’t sit back. She didn’t wait.”
He said Gordon would want her friends and family to carry on.
“I know right now is a sad time,” Blackwell said. “But if Brittany could say one thing, it would be, ‘Continue to strive forward. Continue to be positive. Remember me with good memories.’”
Robert Stewart, a neighbor of the Gordon family, said he last talked to Brittany Gordon when she was home on leave about five months ago.
Gordon was planning to go to college after she finished her tour of duty, he said.
Stewart said he saw several military personnel knock on the Gordon family’s door on Saturday. He told the men how to get in touch with Cedric Gordon, who was in Miami Beach at the time.
“When we saw the guys come up in the uniform, we realized he had three kids in the service – Connie, his son, Ty, and Brittany, who was just home on leave,” Stewart said. “We knew something wasn’t right.”
Neighbor JoAnne Stewart said Gordon’s death shocked her.
“It just took me for a loop,” she said. “The community looks out for each other. So it’s devastating to us all.”
High school friend Jumesha Brooks played with Gordon on the girl’s basketball team and recalled how her teammates respected her.
“The only person I really listened to was Brittany,” Brooks said. “She was the leader of our team. She was a good person. She was a happy person and always kept a smile on her face.”
Information from News Channel 8 reporters Yolanda Fernandez and Josh Green and The Associated Press was used in this report.