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TUESDAY, JUNE 19, 2007

Dustin Awtrey holds his daughter Alexandra for the first time since December. More than 60 family members and friends welcomed him home from Iraq on Monday.
Daily photo by Jonathan Palmer
Dustin Awtrey holds his daughter Alexandra for the first time since December. More than 60 family members and friends welcomed him home from Iraq on Monday.

soldiers home

Indian Hills East subdivision greets 2 reservists as heroes

By Bayne Hughes 340-2432

Flags, friends and family of Maj. Dustin Awtrey lined the road into Indian Hills East subdivision Monday evening, giving a hero's welcome home to a real hero.

The welcome Awtrey most wanted, however, after 11 months in the most dangerous part of Iraq, was waiting at the end of the line. Four-year-old Alexandra Awtrey couldn't wait until her mom, Angela, stopped the car to get a hug from Daddy. She ran to the car and climbed through the window for the emotional hug, while grandmother and parents waited their turn.

"This is pretty overwhelming," Dustin Awtrey said. "I figured my mother would put something together, but I didn't expect all of this."

His mother, Jan Webb, surprised Awtrey with the welcome, and the group included his team chief in Iraq, Jim Bowie of Toney, as part of the hero's welcome. They gave Bowie a cheer and an ovation as he parked his truck.

Awtrey and Bowie actually landed in America on June 12 at Fort Hood, Texas, getting a welcome home from their wives. The two couples visited San Antonio, where Bowie's ancestor, Jim Bowie of Bowie knife fame, died during the Battle of the Alamo. They stopped in New Orleans before returning home Monday.

"It's nice to be back where there's green grass and air conditioning," said Awtrey, a 37-year-old father of two.

'Most dangerous' city

As members of the 108th Division of the U.S. Army Reserves out of Redstone Arsenal, the two men spent the tour of duty in Bacubah, a city Awtrey said has been called the "most dangerous" in Iraq since early this year. They were on a military training team serving under the 4th Battalion. Their job was to train the Iraqi military.

"I think the people we trained will do well, but the sectarian violence is so rampant," Awtrey said.

Their team conducted more than 230 missions during the combat time, and they estimated they had contact with the enemy on about 100. Bowie said Awtrey was the "backbone of our team" and always calm, cool and collected under fire.

The team's 'John Wayne'

"We'd be in the middle of a fight with RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades) flying all around us, and he would be calmly fighting," Bowie said. "Dustin was the John Wayne of our team."

Bowie said Awtrey was also a hero. A reporter with Combat Camera went on her first mission with Awtrey as the team split up. Awtrey's group came under heavy fire, and the reporter was wounded. Bowie said Awtrey calmly took care of her and got her back to safety.

Awtrey also had his share of luck as none of the team was killed or wounded during its time. The day following the reporter incident, Bowie said, an RPG hit a tree near Awtrey and fell to his feet but didn't detonate.

The team had a CNN reporter imbedded with it at times, so the cable news show was on constantly at Awtrey and Webb homes as they hoped to get a glimpse of their military son. They saw Awtrey on at least one report.

"This is a happy day in the neighborhood," Webb said. "It's been kind of scary, especially when CNN was showing them in a gun battle. We prayed everyday for him to make it home."

The two men said they don't expect to have to return to Iraq. Awtrey will return to his selling insurance with his step-father, Carl Webb, while Bowie will return to his job at Boeing Corp.

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