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Injured Marine gets hero's welcome at Savannah airport, brass band and all

Beaufort Marine Staff Sgt. Pablo Barrios, who was wounded in Iraq, greets his daughter Jaeli, at right with flags, while hugging daughter Daiya on Tuesday at Savannah-Hilton Head International Airport. Barrios' wife, Monique, stands behind her husband.
Beaufort Marine Staff Sgt. Pablo Barrios, who was wounded in Iraq, greets his daughter Jaeli, at right with flags, while hugging daughter Daiya on Tuesday at Savannah-Hilton Head International Airport. Barrios' wife, Monique, stands behind her husband.

A pair of miniature U.S. and Marine Corps flags in her hands, 7-year-old Daiya Barrios peered down the terminal at Savannah-Hilton Head International Airport on Tuesday, hoping to catch a glimpse of her father.

And she wasn't alone.

More than 25 uniformed Marines, a military brass quintet and dozens of others stood in the airport's atrium Tuesday to give a hero's welcome to one passenger aboard Delta Airlines flight 5944 from Atlanta -- Beaufort Marine Staff Sgt. Pablo Barrios.

Barrios, 32, was stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort with Marine All-Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 533 last year when he volunteered to deploy with a unit from Camp Lejeune, N.C., to train the Iraqi military.

Barrios deployed in June. While on leave in January, he married his wife, Monique.

And on Feb. 24, while returning from a mission in Basra, a roadside bomb detonated near his Humvee. The explosion damaged his lungs, kidneys and both arms.

Monique received the call every military spouse dreads.

"My first thought was 'Oh my God, what am I going to do?' It was debilitating," said Monique Barrios, 29, her eyes filling with tears. "I'm just so glad that I didn't get that knock at my door."

Shortly after the attack, Barrios was transferred to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., where he has been working for the past six weeks to regain the use of his hands and arms. He was discharged from the hospital Tuesday and returned home, where he will continue his rehabilitation, according to his wife.

Barrios looked dazed as he slowly walked to greet the crowd of grateful well-wishers, which included dozens of fellow travelers who stopped to pay their respects to the returning veteran.

"That guy is what makes this country the greatest on Earth," said Charles Foreman, who was waiting to depart on a flight to Dallas.

His left arm in a sling, his right hand in a splint and cuts to his face and hands still healing, Barrios said the pain of his injuries has been dulled by the support his fellow Marines and his family, who leaped into his arms Tuesday.

"I'm very lucky to make it home, and I couldn't have done it without the support of my family and the Marine Corps," Barrios said. "This is a brotherhood. I've been in the Marine Corps for 14 years, and when I was in the hospital, guys that I haven't spoken to or thought about in five years somehow magically found a way to get a hold of me and tell me they were behind me. I'm just ready to get home to Beaufort and sleep in my own bed."

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