Reid Wilkinson, son of Dee and Lori Wilkinson, arrived at the Salt Lake City Airport on Thursday, April 17 in the evening. Reid just completed a nine-month deployment in Afghanistan and gets to spend two weeks with his family.
He returned home to the breathtaking sight of streets fully adorned with America flags, one giant flag hung majestically from a crane. Friends and family decorated the street near his parents’ home in Mountain Green to show their enthusiasm for his safe return. Several signs in the area also announced his homecoming.
Reid has been in the army for about two and half years and belongs to the Army 173th Airborne Brigade Team. He was greeted by his mother, father and two married sisters and their families.
Lori said she was very relieved to have him home. “It is difficult to have a son in Afghanistan,” she said, “We couldn’t Skype, and we wouldn’t know how he was for weeks at a time.” She was very happy to have him home unharmed.
Lori’s concern stemmed from the fact that Reid is a saw gunner. She said, “Mothers don’t want their boys to be saw gunners; it’s too dangerous.” She explained that he was on the front lines and there was a constant danger from road bombs detonating.
The next day, Reid visited Herriman Elementary where his sister teaches the fourth grade. The students in the class had written to Reid the whole time he was on deployment and it was a great experience for him to visit the class in his uniform. He expressed to the students his genuine appreciation for their letters.
Reid graduated from Morgan High School in 2004. He joined the Army for the benefits and the educational funds he will receive when he fulfills his enlistment. He attended Basic Training in Ft. Benning, Georgia, where he was trained as a paratrooper. He was stationed at Vicenza, Italy, and then deployed to Afghanistan.
For the first four months, he was assigned to a remote area. He explained that there was very little water, and so they went weeks without bathing. “We were in the middle of firefights with the enemy,” he said, “The Taliban is alive and well.”
The mission of the U. S. Armed Forces in Afghanistan is to train the Afghan police and national army. “They are doing their best,” he reported, “but they don’t have the resources that the U. S. does, nor the discipline.” The presence of the U. S. Army is still needed. The goal is to withdraw the majority of US troops by 2014. Reid said, “We’ll see if that happens.” The Taliban are still fighting the soldiers and the locals.
As a saw gunner, Reid carries an automatic machine gun. Sometimes these soldiers are positioned on trucks, and other times they walk around with the guns around their necks.
Reid explained that saw gunners carry the most weight and the most ammunition of any foot soldier. They carry about 80 to 90 pounds including their protective gear which includes helmets, ballistic vests and eye protection. In some circumstances, they even wear knee pads. “Our uniforms are flame retardant,” he added.
He said that while he was glad to serve, he hoped it would be his last deployment to Afghanistan. His company lost two men and his battalion lost 11 during the Afghan deployment. Reid and his wife Megan have been married two years and have been together only half of that time. They both agree that military life can be hard on families.
We join his family in welcoming Reid home and thank him and all others who have served recently in combat situations—and those who have served in the past.