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MILITARY DEATHS

Army Spc. Harley Dean Andrews, 22, Yuba City; Killed in Roadside Explosion

October 01, 2006|Vernon Loeb | Times Staff Writer

Harley Dean Andrews dropped out of high school at 17, a free spirit from Yuba City in Northern California who loved skateboarding and hunting and pushing the limit.

But when his girlfriend, Halley, became pregnant two years ago, he grew up and became an adult with the same abandon.

He took a test for his general equivalency diploma. Then he enlisted in the Army. He and Halley married a few months later, a week before their son, Ayden Dean Andrews, was born in June 2005.

"He actually joined the Army because he wanted to start his life good for his family," said Kevin Bryant, his best friend since karate class in fourth grade. "He thought that was probably his best bet for getting his life rolling."

Soon he was rolling, to Iraq in November as a specialist with the 54th Engineer Battalion, 130th Engineer Brigade, based in Bamburg, Germany.

"Such a good father," his wife said. "Oh my gosh, every time we'd talk on the phone, it was, 'How's my son doing,' it was 100% Ayden. He was going to build me a house and start up his own construction business. There were just so many things he wanted to do. He wanted to retire early so he and Ayden could go hunting and fishing together."

With a little more than a month left on his tour of duty, Andrews, 22, was killed Sept. 11 in Ramadi, the volatile capital of Al Anbar province, 75 miles west of Baghdad, when a roadside bomb detonated under his vehicle during combat operations.

His mother, Kimberly Barlow of Portland, Ore., said she was told by the Army that her son was killed when the bomb exploded through the floor of the vehicle he was driving.

"I know that he went out and he looked for bombs, but he made it sound like it wasn't a big deal," said Barlow, a night manager at a Safeway supermarket. "The more I'm learning, he had a very dangerous job. There's a lot of things he joked off to protect me -- he told his brother a lot more than he told me."

Barlow remembered her son as stubborn, determined and headstrong. "He was very outgoing, he was very outdoorsy, but he always had to push to the next limit. He was a good kid."

Barlow said she did not object when he decided to join the Army. "I'm very proud of my son," she said. "Do I think it was the right thing for him at the time? Yes. You just never think anything will happen to your kid. Did he want to be there? No, but who does? Was he disillusioned? No. But he couldn't wait to get out -- none of them can."

She said her son was maturing both as a father and as a stepson to her husband, Ed, a golf course supervisor. "He was really looking forward to the adult part of my boy -- when you don't have to be the adult and tell him what to do," she said. "I think we got cheated out of a really good future with the boy."

Halley Andrews, 20, met her future husband through a mutual friend when she was 16 and he was 18. He had already dropped out of high school and was working in construction.

She couldn't resist his freckles. "I never thought I would love freckles so much," she said. "He had tattoos and piercings, he was such a rugged guy, but it was the freckles.

"Most of the time when we were together, we would see a movie; we liked driving around on the back roads for no reason. Just being with each other was more than enough."

Bryant, his best friend, said he questioned Andrews about joining the Army, but added, "That's just what he wanted to do. We weren't really glad to see him go, but we were proud of him. He was a go-getter, he was a hustler. He was all about making money and working. He didn't waste time doing nothing. He wasn't lazy, that's for sure."

Andrews' wife said he was a squad machine gunner when he deployed to Iraq, but once there became the driver of an RG-31 personnel carrier armored to protect against mines.

She said she spoke to him by telephone three or four times a week and exchanged messages over the Internet. "I just set him up a MySpace account, and he just wrote me a sweet little message every time he got on," said his wife, who quit college on the day Army officers knocked on her door and said her husband had been killed.

She now lives with her parents, both medical professionals, and her son, now 15 months old, in Weimar, 50 miles northeast of Sacramento.

Andrews' friends recently posted a video tribute to him on myspace.com, a poignant montage of photos showing him with his wife and friends in California -- hunting, backpacking, playing with his baby son -- and his fellow soldiers in Iraq.

The video plays to a song by Creed, "My Sacrifice," and begins with a message: "On Sept. 11, 2006, we lost a friend, a brother, a husband, a father, a soldier, and a great person. You will forever be in our hearts Harley! Rest in peace my friend."

In addition to his wife, son, mother and stepfather, Andrews is survived by his father, Ken C. Phillips of Boise, Idaho; and his brother, Michael, 24, of Portland, Ore.

vernon.loeb@latimes.com

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