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Wrapped in warm memories
by Jason Collins
Dec 25, 2013 | 75 views | 0 0 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Jared Wilkinson is back home in Skidmore for Christmas this year having been in Afghanistan for about the past year.
Jared Wilkinson is back home in Skidmore for Christmas this year having been in Afghanistan for about the past year.
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SKIDMORE – Last year, Jared Wilkinson was sitting in a guard tower, shivering in freezing weather somewhere in the southern region of Afghanistan.

His thoughts that year drifted back to his family.

“All you are thinking about is your family and what they are doing,” he said.

Today though, he will gather with his family, in the warmth of his grandparents’ home—surrounded by his family and his two children.

Jared, who is on leave from the Army, expects he will be the one to open the Bible this year and read the story of Christmas.

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”

The family will likely talk about those words and what Christmas means to each of them.

“For me, Christmas is a time when you can just be around your loved ones and give them something that comes from the heart,” he said.

As he sipped a cup of coffee Monday morning, he was grateful.

“There are some people that died over there,” he said. “You think of some of the other soldiers that have passed on.

“Your heart goes out to their families.

“They lost their son, brother or nephew.

“It gets a little emotional.

“I just thank God I am able to be here this Christmas.”

Only a day after returning home, Jared arrived at Skidmore-Tynan Middle School to surprise his cousins.

“They came up, and they were crying,” he said recalling the morning of Dec. 16.

After that moment, everyone in town would know he was home on leave.

“You just show up one place, and the next day everyone knows you are down,” he said.

This is the first time in over a year that Jared has been home. Last year, his deployment date forced him to miss most of the holidays with his family.

The Army did its best to make the holidays special. But something was missing.

They had ham or turkey and all the traditional sides.

“We had a little campfire in the middle of the base,” Jared said. “On cold nights we would sit around the campfire.”

But, despite the effort, Afghanistan wasn’t home.

“You can only do so much when you aren’t at home,” he said.

Being a soldier means that Jared has had to cope with missing out on many of life’s important events.

“I was at basic training when my son was born,” he said. Likewise, when his wife, Heather, gave birth to their daughter Chloe, he was deployed overseas.

“Being in the military, that is the stuff you have to expect,” he said. “You just have to learn to cope with things like that.

“At first it is hard, but you get used to it.

“Your body and emotions become immune to the military life.”

He talks with confidence almost as though he was unaware that someone closely listening couldn’t hear the change in his voice.

“We had our orders,” he said. “We had to get our job done.”

His voice slows as he talks about his time away from his family.

“It is crazy how time flies when you are gone,” he admits. “You leave, and they are just barely sitting up.

“You come back, and they are running around the house.

“It is a blessing to see how they are growing.

“Being with them is a feeling you cannot explain.

“The chance to see them again got me through Afghanistan.”

He always leaves behind a small treasure—a Manchu belt buckle he earned having completed a particularly difficult march.

He gives this to his son Clayton, now 2 1/2 years old.

“That is the thing I am going to come back and get,” he said.

His family has a history of serving in the armed forces, but he credits the local Texas Ranger, James Bennett, his uncle, for helping shape him.

“He taught me a majority of the stuff I know,” he said.

“I always wanted to be like him. He always holds his head high.”

Fate, though, set him not on the law enforcement path but of that of a soldier.

When his wife was pregnant with their son, he wasn’t old enough to join law enforcement but was able to enlist in the Army.

“Once my wife got pregnant, I wanted to do something to help out,” he said.

For now, Jared will stay in the military, but that could change down the road.

“I love my job,” he said. “But I will see what these next five years are like.”

He holds hope that he will continue to make Christmas dinner. But, much of that is beyond his control.

With that uncertainty lingering, he has a simple thought.

“This is the one that matters most,” he said

Jason Collins is the editor at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 121, or at editor@mySouTex.com.
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