Craig Craig veterans welcomed home one of their own Saturday morning.
Sgt. Sterling Wilkey returned from Afghanistan last week, and VFW Post 4265 celebrated his return Saturday. He was deployed in July 2012.
It was Wilkey’s second tour of duty abroad after a stint in Iraq from 2004 to 2005. And while he said his time in Afghanistan did not contain as much enemy fire as in Iraq, he had plenty more to worry about back home.
Between his tours, Wilkey became a husband and a father. This time, it was difficult to leave behind his wife, Aubrey, and daughter, Madison, who is finishing up kindergarten.
“I was single when I came home from Iraq,” Wilkey said. “I really just had myself to worry about out there. But this time, I was thinking about my wife and daughter. I know it was hard on them to see me go, especially my daughter because she thought it meant I didn’t want to be there.”
But upon his return, there were no hard feelings. Wilkey flew into Utah, and said it was a great homecoming.
Awaiting the veterans returning with Wilkey, “there were 25 pregnancies and so 27 new kids, so it was pretty cool coming off the plane,” he said. “I couldn’t find Maddy at first, but eventually the people parted, she heard my voice, and her face just lit up.”
The activity at Post 4265 was nothing special Saturday morning, just cake and coffee to celebrate a veteran’s return and to let Wilkey know his service was appreciated. But it was another bonus to a great week, he said.
“I’m not a native here — I was born in central Utah — but I can see the patriotism in Craig from stuff like this,” Wilkey said. “I’m not a native son, but I feel like I’ve been adopted into the community as a son. It’s amazing to feel this welcome.”
Wilkey said an unknown person picked up his tab for dinner at the Tin Cup Grill, and he was thankful for that gesture, one he had never received.
He’s ready to get back to family life now. Wilkey said he has about 2 1/2 years until his 20 years are finished, but he should be able to stay in Craig aside from National Guard drill obligations. He’s looking forward to spending time with his family.
“I love him, and when he got off the plane, it made me really happy,” Madison said. She added they are looking forward to going bowling, swimming and checking out the movie theater together.
Nate Waggenspack can be reached at 970-875-1795 or firstname.lastname@example.org