A hero’s welcome

Saturday, July 31, 2004

JACKSON, Tenn. - On April 17, in the small, dusty town of Ad Diwaniyah, Iraq, enemy insurgents ambushed Army Specialist Greg Allen’s convoy.

“They were on roof tops and in alleys and firing from windows,” said Allen, 34, who returned home May 27 and back to work at Lincare June 21. “I’m sure I was scared, but you just react.”

Prior to being activated on Feb. 10, 2003, the Army reservist supervised drivers and warehouse staff at Lincare’s Jackson location, where he’s worked for six years. Fourteen months later in Ad Diwaniyah, the Army mechanic faced dozens of enemy soldiers armed with AK47s, rocket-propelled grenades and “improvised explosive devices.”

During the battle, Allen reacted “without delay, laying down suppressive fire and engaging the enemy in all directions,” according to his recommendation for a Bronze Star, which recognizes heroic behavior.

Allen’s convoy was heading to the city of Najaf, where the Al-Mahadi Army Militia had taken control. The transport consisted of 16 heavy equipment transports, two Humm-Vs a gun truck, one 2.5 ton gun truck, one five-ton gun truck - all mounted with 50 cal. machine guns - and two maintenance vehicles, one with a 50 cal. machine gun. The payload consisted of M1 tanks and M88 recovery tracks.

The 100 men rolled into Ad Diwaniyah at about 4:30 p.m.

The town appeared to Allen rundown: a dirty outpost that smelled of raw sewage. Two- and three-story, sandy-colored buildings dominated the desert landscape.

“A lot of them, I didn’t know what they were,” Allen said. “They were just buildings.”

The temperature stood at about 90 degrees, cool compared to the previous summer’s 100-degree-plus heat.

When a convoy rolls through an Iraqi community, children normally watch and wave. This day, they didn’t. Instead, Allen said, he saw parents holding their children’s hands and hurrying them home. At one point, a gas station closed “with us just sitting there.”

“In hindsight, there were warning signs we should have picked up on,” he said.

The ambush was textbook. The attackers blocked the convoy’s preferred route with an overturned vehicle, forcing a detour through congested city streets. The shooting began shortly after the convoy entered “power line alley,” a small street with low powerlines. The fight lasted about two-and-a-half hours. While it raged, Allen drove through the city streets, firing his weapon at the same time. When the shooting ended, three Americans and about 30 attackers lay dead in the “kill zone.”

In his recommendation for the Bronze Star, Allen is praised for taking action that “saved lives and equipment needed to complete the mission. His actions are in keeping with the highest standards of military tradition and are most worthy of having his actions recognized as heroic.”

Allen’s return home May 27 coincided with his wife’s birthday. Residents of the small town turned out to greet him, and a police escort paraded him through town. Coworkers at Lincare threw Allen and his family, which includes two daughters, a big breakfast. The local TV station and newspaper interviewed him.

After 13 months away, coming home, proved a “tearful moment,” Allen said. Going back to work “completed the feeling” that he had returned.

Now that he’s done his time, Allen said, he doesn’t want to go back to Iraq, nor will he have to, and that’s just fine.

“It is rough,” he said, “watching someone die in front of you.”