Saturday, February 24, 2007

Brian Browning laid to rest

WARRENTON W ith flags and firetrucks, tears and hugs, a community turned out Friday to mourn a soldier who turned his life around before it ended abruptly on an Iraqi battlefield.

Hundreds of people poured into Warrior Hall at Camp Rilea to remember Spc. Brian A. Browning, 20, of the Olney area near Astoria. He was killed Feb. 6 south of Baghdad when a guard tower he was in came under fire.

Others paid tribute as Browning's body was carried down U.S. 101. Local firefighters hung flags from ladder trucks, and Oregon State Police troopers led the solemn procession.

"We're all blown away with the show of support," said Doug Carson of Tigard, one of Browning's uncles.

He described his nephew as a kid who got into trouble and then got it together.

"We were joking today," Carson said. "The police are out, and he wasn't in trouble."

As his parents, Perry and Paula Browning, wept quietly, Brian Browning was remembered as a youth without direction who found his purpose in the U.S. Army.

After being rejected because he didn't have a high school diploma, Browning finished his education at the Tongue Point Job Corps site, lost 40 pounds and enlisted in June 2005. He was stationed with the 10th Mountain Infantry Division at Fort Drum, N.Y., following boot camp at Fort Benning, Ga.

When he enlisted, Browning joined a military tradition that runs like a steel rod through his family. One grandfather retired from the Navy, his father served in the Navy, and uncle Doug Carson retired from the Army. A cousin is serving in the Oregon National Guard and recently completed a tour in Iraq.

"Brian stood up for what's out there and what's right," his father said before the funeral. "He went there knowing full well what he was facing."

During a two-week leave in January, Browning's family took him to Hooters in Beaverton. Many laughed Friday as scenes of that final sendoff were projected in the auditorium.

The parents of one member of what Browning proudly called his "Band of Brothers" came from Los Angeles to help Browning's friends and family shoulder their grief. Scott and Jane Harmon's son Patrick was Browning's assistant gunner. He is still in Iraq.

After arriving in Oregon, they tried to get to know a little about Browning, whom they never met, Scott Harmon said. It turned out that a woman working at their hotel was the sister of one of his best friends. Astoria, it seemed to Harmon, is a place of not six but two degrees of separation.

"Our community partly defines who we are," Harmon said, before reading from an e-mail from his son.

The e-mail described Browning as not only a jokester who kidded about playing "I Spy" from the rooftops in Baghdad, but also a very good soldier who cared about the other members of his squad.

Gov. Ted Kulongoski paid tribute to Browning, saying that "this beautiful corner of Oregon is a place of rain and rainbows" and that he suspected growing up in the shadow of Camp Rilea inspired Browning to get his life on track.

"The darkness of this day and the grief we feel will lift," Kulongoski said.

After the funeral, Browning's mother said she couldn't believe the outpouring of support.

"This is overwhelming," Paula Browning said. "How Brian touched so many people's lives."

From the Oregonian

Related Link:
Brian Browning reported killed in Iraq