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Soldier healing to surf

After surviving a car bomb in Iraq, Army paratrooper Austin Honrath enjoys the 'little things' in Newport Beach before his scheduled return to service.

April 04, 2007|By Jessie Brunner

Army paratrooper Austin Honrath isn't afraid of jumping out of airplanes in Iraq, but getting him to pose for a photo while he is home on a 30-day convalescent leave is a bit of a challenge.

Honrath, a former Newport Beach lifeguard, is a "little bit shy," so when an entourage of more than 50 of his friends and family members came to the airport to greet him as he returned home last month after being injured in a suicide car bombing, he was quite taken aback.

"It was amazing to see there are that many people who are supportive of what I do," the 22-year-old Huntington Beach resident said. "I didn't cry when I got hit that day, I didn't cry in the E.R., but that was definitely a tearful moment."

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"That day" was March 17. Based at an abandoned, two-story school with a cinderblock perimeter in the Diyala province — immediately northeast of Baghdad — Honrath and his team had just returned from an 11-hour foot patrol through the neighborhood, searching homes to ensure that they complied with the one-weapon, one-magazine limit as they passed out blankets.

Sitting on the hood of his Humvee reading a recent edition of Surfing magazine, Honrath — who was on his first tour and had been in Iraq about nine months — was startled to hear the soldier at the security post shout out a warning.

"I was engulfed in the article when I heard him yell, 'Get down!' real loud, and I saw a suicide-car bomb come around a blind corner," he said.

The car bomb was about 50 feet away from Honrath, who had rolled onto the ground between two trucks, when it detonated after popping its tires on the barbed wire encircling the base.

"Him warning us is what saved my life, and the lives of many others," he said. "For his actions, he didn't have the chance to take cover."

That soldier died, and — with shrapnel in his head, hand, chest, liver, stomach, knee and calf — Honrath and six others were rushed to the closest air base, where he received an emergency surgical washout, though doctors decided to leave some of the debris to heal itself.

Within days, he was enjoying his favorite meal at the Bluewater Grill in Newport Beach, complete with a cold beer.

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