While having dinner with his wife and sister, his father called with the news that Baer’s brother, Damian Johnsen Baer, had died while working as a linguist at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan.
“Of course, I was extremely shocked,” he said. “Damian was in great physical condition. We knew he was taking chances working in an active war zone, but I was absolutely grief-stricken.”
A week later, the family still isn’t sure what killed him, Baer said.
“It’s all subjective at this point, but the preliminary report is that he collapsed and they were not able to resuscitate him,” he said. “We had no indications at all that he had any sort of physical ailments or issues.”
Adrian Baer said he can’t help but think about the good times he and his brother shared.
“Damian and I were only two years apart in age, so we did all the things that boys do. We fished a lot as children and as we got older we began working out together. His great passions in life were his cars, his physical routines and the Army. He was very proud of his service.”
As a sergeant, Baer served with the 2-1 Stryker Brigade in the Signal Intelligence Corps. He served one tour in Baghdad, and his brigade was among the last to leave Iraq.
After receiving an honorable discharge in 2011, Adrian Baer said, his brother immediately put his skills to use, working as a linguist at Fort Gordon before he was sent overseas to serve at Bagram, where he had been for more than 10 months before his death.
“He was a true patriot in every sense of the word,” Adrian Baer said.
Outside of his military service, Baer had a strong passion for music, said his mother, Debra M. Johnsen Baer. A graduate of South Aiken High School, he earned a Bachelor of Arts in music and a master’s in opera from the University of South Carolina. He recently performed in an opera-style concert for troops in Afghanistan.
“He wanted to (do) more with his singing,” his mother said. “He loved singing and performing. He had so much talent and love to give.”
She said she has been overwhelmed by the support since her son’s death.
“I’ve gotten calls and cards from people who knew Damian but didn’t know us,” she said. “He touched so many people’s lives.”
Adrian Baer said his brother leaves behind a son, Salvatore Andreas Ventimiglia, who will turn 2 in January.
A prayer service will be held at 6 p.m. Monday, and the family will receive friends until 8 p.m. at Shellhouse Funeral Home at 924 Hayne Ave. in Aiken.