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Fallen soldier returns home to Umatilla

A U.S. Air Force carry team transfers the remains of Staff Sgt. Austin Bieren, of Umatilla, Ore., April 1, 2017, at Dover Air Force Base, Del. Bieren was assigned to the 21st Space Wing, Peterson AFB, Colo. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Zachary Cacicia)

TRI-CITIES, Wash. – Friends and the community share a story about a young man's return home.

Local law enforcement and the Patriot Guard lead an emotional memorial procession today for a fallen soldier from Umatilla.

"He was a hometown boy," longtime family friend Michael Roxbury said.

Staff Sergeant Austin Bieren of Umatilla joined the Air Force right out of high school.

Two weeks ago, Bieren tragically died in a non-combat related incident while deployed in support of combat operations in Syria on March 28, at the young age of 25. Roxbury said the official military report said Austin died of cardiac complications while in Syria.

"He gave his life in the service of this country and he believed in that," Roxbury said.

Roxbury stressed that people can't take soldiers, like Austin, for granted.

"It’s easy to get numb to it, but then you see a procession come through your town like this and you see a fallen solider returning home," he said.

With lights flashing and motorcycle engines revving, a large procession made its way from Pasco to Umatilla Friday afternoon.

Roxbury hopes the procession serves as a reminder that the war overseas is real.

"That's why we're out here, so that people know we still love and care for our men and women," Patriot Guard Ride Captain Neal Miller said.

The Patriot Guard and local law enforcement welcomed the family and the fallen solider at the airport and lead the procession to his home.

"This is our way of paying a final tribute to the family and to Austin, his memory, and his dedication to our nation and the service that he signed up for," Miller said.

Though Roxbury is torn that this was not the kind of homecoming he expected, he's proud to participate in the procession in Austin's memory.

"We have to get him home and honor his service," Roxbury said.

He said today the community remembers a life of service that ended too soon.

In lieu of flowers, the family will be setting up a memorial fund in Austin’s honor.

The funds will be used to make special gifts for Austin’s many military friends in remembrance of him.

The fund is located at any US Bank: "Austin Bieren Memorial Fund."

A celebration of life service with military honors will be held tomorrow at one in the afternoon at the Umatilla High School gymnasium.

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