SoCal Nat'l. Guard troops return from Iraq

LOS ALAMITOS They are members of the National Guard, and have completed a 12-month combat tour in Iraq. This is the first of four homecomings set for the next several days.

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Virgie Wilkinson can't help but cry. Her 22-year-old son Jason is finally home from Iraq.

"A week after he landed over there, I started having heart attacks," said Virgie. "So I'm glad he's home."

Sergeant Jason Wilkinson is grateful to be able to hold his 8-month-old nephew.

"Oh yeah, he's gotten a lot bigger," said Sgt. Wilkinson.

Wilkinson is among more than 100 soldiers with the 1st Battalion, 160th Infantry, Delta Company, returning after more than 12 months away.

"We're just happy that he's home now and that he's safe," said Taylor Schwenke, one soldier's wife.

During their deployment, these soldiers conducted more than 900 escort missions, providing security for military and civilian vehicles from Camp Virginia, Kuwait, into all areas of Iraq.

The hugs and smiles say it all.

"We're probably all just going to barricade inside for some family time, nothing else," said Sgt. Dennis Duvall.

For some, the reunion will be a short one.

"My son Scotty is only here for two weeks, then he's going back with his original unit back over to Iraq," said Roberta Cook.

Any time together is precious. Sgt. Wilkinson spent his 21st and 22nd birthdays away from home. They plan to make up for it.

"We're going to give him some real food, instead of MREs [Meals-Ready-to-Eat]," said Corinna Wilkinson, Jason's sister.

"He's going to come home and he's going to get fat. I'm going to fatten him up," said Virgie Wilkinson.

It's the first of four homecomings this week: 650 soldiers anxiously awaiting the stay after so long overseas.

"It's long, long hours, hot. You've just got to get through the days to get back here to your families, and that's the only thing that keeps guys going," said Sgt. Wilkinson.


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