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Friends, family gather as Army names Reserve Center after fallen hero

SANFORD, Fla. — Gary Mills owes his life to the late Army Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn C. Cashe.

Mills was one of half a dozen soldiers whom Cashe pulled from a burning Bradley Fighting Vehicle after a roadside bomb hit it in Iraq on Oct. 17, 2005.

Badly burned over most of his body, Cashe died Nov. 9, 2005.

But his name will live on in Sanford, where Mills joined dozens of Cashe's fellow soldiers, friends, family and dignitaries at a ceremony Saturday naming the new U.S. Army Reserve Center after the fallen hero.

"It's long overdue," Mills, 34, of Jacksonville said of the recognition.

On the lawn of the 31,030-square-foot training building near Orlando Sanford International Airport, speakers praised Cashe's bravery, selflessness and dedication and read proclamations from Gov. Rick Scott and Sanford Mayor Jeff Triplett recognizing Cashe's sacrifice.

Representatives of Sens. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, also paid their respects.

Two of Cashe's brothers and a sister -- he comes from a blended family of 18 siblings -- spoke of his impeccable character and remembered his love of hunting and fishing.

Cashe joined the Army immediately after graduating from Oviedo High School in 1988. He had deployed to Iraq once before during Operation Iraqi Freedom and had previously served in Bosnia and the first Gulf War.

When he died at 35, Cashe left a wife and three children in addition to his mother, siblings and a large extended family.

Cashe's mom, Ruby Mae Cash, 87, sat in the front row Saturday and accepted a flag from U.S. Rep. John Mica, R-Winter Park, that flew over the U.S. Capitol. She also was presented with Senate and House commemorative coins.

"He was a good son and a good soldier," she said.

Sgt. 1st Class Douglas Dodge knows Cashe's courage firsthand. He was among the soldiers in the Bradley Fighting Vehicle that fateful day in 2005 and helped Cashe pull out some of the others. In the end, only three survived.

Because Cashe refused to stop even though his uniform was soaked in fuel and caught fire, four soldiers were able to see their families before they died at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Dodge said. An interpreter died at the scene of the inferno.

Cashe was the last to succumb to his injuries.

Cashe was posthumously awarded a Purple Heart and a Silver Star, but advocates are campaigning for the Army to give him the Medal of Honor, too.

"He was a selfless person," said Dodge, 44, who traveled from Fort Lewis, Wash., to attend the ceremony.

Col. Gary M. Brito, who was Cashe's battalion commander, said the Sgt. 1st Class Alwyn C. Cashe U.S. Army Reserve Center will inspire future soldiers.

"The meaning is always here," said Brito, who came from Virginia for the ceremony.

sjacobson@tribune.com

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