Dustin Blair is admittedly nervous about returning to a country riddled with roadside bombs, suicide bombers and civil violence. But having his father by his side in Iraq will help.
Spc. Dustin Blair and Sgt. John Blair left Sunday as members of the 35th Engineer Brigade from Fort Leonard Wood for another tour of duty in Iraq. It’s the first time they’ve left together. It won’t be their first time together in the Middle East.
John made a personal sacrifice in 2005 when he voluntarily extended his stay in Iraq to remain with his then 20-year-old son, who had the difficult task of clearing roadways and convoy routes of dangerous improvised explosive devices. John, 50, served another six months to perform the same deadly IED roadside sweeps as Dustin.
“I stayed to keep an eye on Dustin so that his mother would be able to sleep at night,” John said.
John suspected that Dustin, a 2004 Houston graduate, would eventually follow in his footsteps when he mobilized with the 220th Engineer Company, Festus, in January 2005. He didn’t know it would be so soon. Dustin arrived in Iraq with the 110th Engineer Battalion in August.
Inside the 168,743 square mile country, the Blairs crossed paths not long after Dustin arrived. The father and son saw each other for the first time on Thanksgiving Day, and John was able to visit Dustin periodically as a motor transport operator who hauled equipment to work sites for the platoon.
The time came for John’s unit to return home, but he wasn’t ready to leave his son. His wife, Kimberly, was torn.
“On one hand, I was so happy that my husband was coming home,” she said. “But on the other, I didn’t want my son to be there alone. When John said he wanted to stay with Dustin, I said it was his decision. But I was glad he did.”
Staying meant John had to transfer to the 110th as an IED hunter. His job, like his son, was to drive the roads south of Baghdad looking for and disposing of roadside bombs. The task cleared the way for the many convoys that travel in Iraq.
John said he learned to see his son as another solider. He had to trust his training to keep from worrying. But he still relied on his fatherly instincts.
“When Dustin was on a mission,” John said, “I would wait till they rolled back in to make sure he was safe.”
Although Dustin left Iraq early with a shoulder injury, both father and son returned home safely. A year later – and appropriately one week before Father’s Day – the Blairs are going back to Iraq together.
Now members of the 35th Engineer Brigade, John will serve in a role similar to his first tour of duty. Dustin will provide personal security to military leaders and dignitaries. They will have different duties, but they’ll do so from the same company.
“Because we’re in the same unit, we’ll be in the same area this time and we’ll be able to see each other more often,” Dustin said. “Like before, I’ll have the benefit of his being there if I have any problems.”
John and Dustin said they’ve always been close. But now they share a special bond.
“Now he can see why I have been so proud of my service in the Army,” said John, who lives in Elk Creek. “As any father in the military would be, I am very proud to have served during a time of war with my son.”