Soldiers are ‘first over, first back’

Seeing was definitely believing.

The first contingent of Army Reservists from the Pacific Northwest’s 671st Engineer Company came home from Iraq Thursday, the end of a yearlong deployment for the Iraq war.

Six soldiers from the unit were greeted by more than two dozen sons, daughters, fathers, mothers and wives at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

Two Snohomish County soldiers were in the group, Sgt. David Ostertag of Smokey Point and Staff Sgt. Brian Hurd of Everett.

"I’m relieved. That’s the biggest part," said Hurd’s father, Andy Hurd.

He said he made it through the wait "one day at a time. You can’t dwell on everything that’s going on there. You just hope nothing happens."

"I just wish everybody was coming home," added Karen Hurd, the soldier’s mother.

"I’m glad to be home. Just seeing this guy here," Brian Hurd said as he picked up his son for the first time in a year.

The soldiers left Iraq earlier this week. After flights to Kuwait, Sicily, Ireland and New York, the troops landed in Texas on Tuesday and continued their processing at Fort Hood.

After a final week of paperwork at Fort Lewis, the soldiers will go on leave.

Approximately 180 soldiers from the bridge-building unit were deployed to Iraq. The six soldiers who returned this week were part of a 10-member advance group that left for Kuwait in November 2002. The rest of the unit will come home later.

"First over, first back," said Brig. Gen. Rose Loper, deputy commander of the 70th Regional Readiness Command.

"This unit has done superlative work in helping the country of Iraq to liberate itself and follow on with some of the rebuilding," she said.

Roughly half of the troops’ families at the airport were wearing brown "God Bless U.S. Army" T-shirts with the slogan "Team Brian" on the sleeve. The group, which had traveled to the airport in an eight-car caravan from Portland, Ore., was there to meet Spc. Brian Dahrens.

Ostertag had a large welcoming party waiting for him at the airport, too: his wife of 20 years, Daniela, their five children and a son-in-law.

"I don’t even believe it," Daniela Ostertag said. "It really hasn’t hit me. Somebody stand behind me, because I might just lose it."

"It really hasn’t set in yet that I’m home yet," David Ostertag said. "We were told six or seven times we were leaving but had the door slammed in our face."

"Home, finally home," he said.

Ostertag’s unit saw action with the 3rd Infantry Division, often on the front lines or beyond. It was also called in after the U.N. headquarters was bombed to help clear debris and search for bodies.

"I didn’t meet one Iraqi who said he didn’t want us there or we didn’t belong," Ostertag said.

Not everyone from the 671st made it home safe.

Spc. Brandon Tobler was killed on the way to Baghdad on March 22 when his Humvee crashed into another vehicle during a sandstorm.

"He was a close friend, a super trooper," Ostertag said, recalling that on one of the flights to get home, he couldn’t get the 19-year-old soldier out of his mind.

"It brought tears to my eyes. I thought, ‘Wish you were with me, buddy.’"

While homecomings will continue for some Pacific Northwest troops, others are getting set to deploy to Iraq.

The 898th Engineer Battalion, a National Guard unit with soldiers in Everett and Snohomish, will be mobilized on Nov. 15.

Reporter Brian Kelly: 425-339-3422 or

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