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'The Way Home to Centreville is through Baghdad'

Lance Cpl. Spencer Allen, 22, of Centreville, is serving with the Marines in Iraq, and no one's prouder of him than his parents, Beverly and Chris Allen of Centre Ridge.

"The last call I got, he sounded excited and really pumped," said his father on Monday. "I told him, 'Be careful — those guys don't play by the book.' And he told me, 'Dad, the way home to Centreville is through Baghdad. And I can hardly wait to get to Baghdad."

Dad is a retired Air Force officer, and Spencer is a 1999 graduate of Fork Union Military Academy, just east of Charlottesville. While there, he rose through the ranks and graduated as the officer in charge of the Retan Rifles — an honor-guard unit.

He especially liked orienteering — mapping out a course and running quickly from point to point — and playing paintball. After military school, he joined the Marines and did his basic training at Parris Island, S.C.

Spencer loved it — thriving on each new challenge and even earning the nickname "Hollywood" for his antics on a 60-foot-high rope ladder that terrified his buddies during an obstacle course. After graduation, he was a reservist in the 4th Light-Armored Reconnaissance Battalion at Quantico.

Next, he was off to Tucson, Ariz., in spring 2002, working as a ranch hand in the civilian world while serving in the 6th Engineering Support Battalion with the Marines. But he's primarily trained as an infantryman and a scout and, in mid-February, he deployed for Kuwait. Then, the first week of March, he headed for Iraq.

At home, his family — including brothers Cade, 32; Christopher, almost 18, a Centreville High senior; and Stephanie, 20 — eagerly waited to hear from him.

"He called a couple times — once from Camp Doha, the third week of February, and on April 2 from 'somewhere in Iraq,'" said Chris Allen. "He couldn't tell me where, but he told me he's OK." Spencer is supporting the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, south and east of Baghdad.

"He's in charge of security and counterterrorism for his company, which is a bulk-fuel company," said Allen. "It goes behind the front troops and establishes a refueling station for their Bradleys, M1A1 tanks and helicopters. He protects the fuel company."

Spencer also told his family what it's like to be in a sandstorm. Once, when he and another young Marine were out scouting to make sure the enemy wasn't setting up a mortar position for an attack, there was such a bad sandstorm that they got lost and couldn't see where they were.

"While Spencer was in Kuwait, he said one guy stepped on a land mine — it was unexploded ordnance from the last war," explained Chris Allen. "So that's why he was worried when he was in the sandstorm, because he lost visibility of his patrol area. But Spencer tied the two of them together and rigged up his flashlight with a red light so the U.S. night-vision equipment would find him — and it worked. I was so proud of him."

Since Allen's an intelligence analyst by trade, he spends lots of time analyzing the news and trying to figure out exactly where his son is. "I was concerned that the Iraquis weren't going to melt away," he said. "So when he called, April 2, and told me he was OK, there was a lot of relief. But my heart goes out to those who've had an injury or death in their family."

The Allens sent Spencer a recent care package containing an Easter basket full of candy, tape recorder, blank tapes to record what's going on, batteries, razor blades, energy bars and powdered drink mixes with electrolytes to prevent dehydration. And his grandmother sent him nylon line and clothespins which he used with his poncho to create a sun shelter.

"He's a terrific guy, and I know he's in with the best," said Allen. "The Marines are well-trained, and he's an expert marksman. I have a lot of faith that he'll be just fine."