Hopkins graduate is killed in Iraq

Former football player dies in roadside bombing

May 06, 2007|By Phillip McGowan | Phillip McGowan,sun reporter

In the months before graduating from the Johns Hopkins University, Colby J. Umbrell's athletic pursuits began to turn from football. Sometimes alone, sometimes with a family friend, he ran mile after mile through the city's streets, training for marathons, a career in the military -- and for the distinct possibility of going to Iraq.

He ran three marathons, two before earning a Hopkins degree in political science in 2004. He became an Army officer. And he began his first tour to Iraq six months ago.

On Thursday, the Army first lieutenant was killed by a roadside bomb in Musayyib, Iraq, about 40 miles south of Baghdad. He was 26.

Lieutenant Umbrell is the second Hopkins graduate known to have died in Iraq within a month, according to school officials. Army Capt. Jonathan Grassbaugh, a 2003 graduate, was killed while on patrol April 7. Hopkins President William R. Brody notified faculty and students of Umbrell's death in an e-mail on Friday.

"The bonds that we forge with one another when we become members of this university community are not broken -- indeed, they are strengthened -- by graduation," Dr. Brody said in the statement. "It is those strong bonds that pull at our hearts today as we think of Colby and Jonathan."

Lieutenant Umbrell, who was raised in Doylestown, Pa., about 45 miles north of Philadelphia, played three years as a reserve defensive lineman for the Hopkins football team. His last year was as a junior in 2002, when the Blue Jays won a share of their first Centennial Conference title, the first of four straight for Hopkins.

Hopkins football coach Jim Margraff described Lieutenant Umbrell as a "high-energy guy" who was impeded from playing a more prominent role on the team because of high school injuries..

"He talked about going into the military," Mr. Margraff. "It's one of the things that he aspired to do. He was hard-working, focused, detail-oriented, honest and someone you can trust with anything."

Lieutenant Umbrell developed an interest in the military in 1998 while attending a football camp at West Point, said his father, Mark Umbrell. He had considered attending the military academy, but he settled on Hopkins, which provided the big-city atmosphere he craved and was close to Washington. His family visited him a few times a year in Baltimore, hitting the usual tourist destinations such as the Inner Harbor and Fells Point.

After leaving the football team, Lieutenant Umbrell, who was about 6 feet tall, worked to lose 50 pounds to get into military shape. He ran his first marathon in Chicago in 2003. While finishing up his college career overseas in Italy, he ran his second in Florence.

Lieutenant Umbrell joined the Army shortly after leaving Hopkins and became a Ranger and a paratrooper. His father said he wanted to become a lawyer and work for the military's Judge Advocate General's Corps.

Lieutenant Umbrell was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, out of Fort Richardson, Alaska.

"He knew he was going when he signed up," Mark Umbrell said. "He said all along that that was something he wanted to do. He felt it was part of something really important. It was important to establish democracy. He knew it wasn't going to be something that happened in a few years. He knew that, and he paid the price. He knew and we knew that could have happened. It's the only thing that keeps us from going crazy."

phill.mcgowan@baltsun.com

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