A Craig native and Army specialist left Friday morning to continue his role in the war against terrorism.
Army Spc. Scott Jones, a team leader for the 10th Mountain Division, has been patrolling the desert terrain of Afghanistan since March. American soldiers in Afghanistan are searching for Osama bin Laden, the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Jones was en route to his destination Friday and was not available for comment.
His parents are Tracey and Steve Lathrop of Craig.
"He feels he's protecting all of us from terrorists," Tracey Lathrop said. "His favorite saying is 'Freedom isn't free.' That's something we should all value."
Jones, a former student at Moffat County High School, visited his parents at home while on furlough. He surprised his mother by arriving unannounced.
"I thought I was seeing a ghost," Tracey Lathrop said. "That was the surprise of my entire life. I can't even emphasize how happy I was. ... I was just hysterical."
Jones was stationed at Fort Drum in New York before being deployed to Asadabad, a region near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
"He says he can lob a grenade into Pakistan from where he is," Tracey Lathrop said.
Lathrop was sad to see her son depart. She said her emotions after he left Friday were bittersweet.
"It's tragic and triumph all rolled into one," she said. "I'm so proud of him and the man he is. He's a true patriot. He believes in what he's doing."
The death toll in Iraq continues to mount, and news reports of the rebuilding country pour into the U.S.
Lathrop said she worries about her son every day. On patrol recently, Jones was traveling in the gun torrent of a Humvee when a rocket-propelled grenade came through the vehicle's window and embedded in the chest of another soldier. The projectile did not detonate and the other soldier's life was saved by his body armor.
"The bullets are still flying, the RPGs are still flying," she said. "It's very dangerous there."
Jones' enlistment ends in July. He might re-enlist join the Army Rangers.
Lathrop said she won't stand in her son's way if he re-enlists.
"I want him to be happy, proud and self-confident, and if that means do what he's doing, that's fine."
Lathrop has accepted an invitation to speak about her son and family during today's fourth annual Hometown Heroes Picnic at Craig City Park.
The picnic commemorates Armed Forces Day, which is today.
Lathrop joins Veterans of Foreign Wars commander Bud Nelson in addressing community members attending the free public luncheon, sponsored by the Craig Daily Press.
Other contributors to the picnic are KRAI, Coca-Cola, City Market, the VFW, Elk's Lodge and American Legion.
Also slated to speak today is Mark Juarez, a 1997 graduate of Moffat County High School and a former sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps. He is a veteran of operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.