New VSO pledges to help veterans however he can
Craig — Ed Wilkinson, 68, has always felt an affinity for other people.
He likes to meet new ones, and he wants to be there when they need help.
In his new role as Moffat County Veterans Service Officer, Wilkinson hopes to get a chance to do both.
“I’ve been kind of a hermit these last few years since I retired from Qwest,” Wilkinson said, referring to his penchant for staying at home on the acres he owns off Knez Divide south of Craig. “I don’t get into town much anymore. This’ll give me a chance to see what’s going on again and help people that truly need it.”
When VSO Bill Harding retires at the end of May, it will be Wilkinson’s duty to see to every need his fellow veterans have.
Health care, for instance. Making sure veterans receive the benefits they’re entitled to and finding them a ride to the Grand Junction Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
And if he can’t find a ride, he will drive them himself.
“Anything a vet needs, I will take care of them,” Wilkinson said. “It’s my duty.”
He also will be an emissary of sorts, communicating to the veterans of Moffat County the information they need to adapt to the constantly changing landscape of government programs.
In that way, Wilkinson will recall his duties as an Army Signal Corps specialist, coordinating communication on the island of Japan from 1958 to 1961.
He left the military after that. Although he was glad to be out at the time – just before President John Kennedy sent troops to Vietnam – he said he sometimes regrets he never made a career out of being an active duty soldier.
“We knew something was going to happen,” Wilkinson said. “When I did get out, they wanted us to re-up. But, I had a wife and a kid, and a kid on the way, and I knew I needed to support them.”
His desire for service wasn’t unfed for long.
After moving to Moffat County in 1972, he promptly joined up with the Sheriff’s Posse three years later.
“It was a small community then, and I wanted to help the people I was living with,” Wilkinson said. “Back in those days, it was a posse. There weren’t many deputies or police officers. The posse did just about everything. Mostly search and rescue back in those days.”
In 1985, he re-enlisted with the National Guard Signal Corps and made his way to first sergeant, in charge of a company of soldiers, before he retired in 2000.
Wilkinson never saw combat. He got out a few years before Operation Iraqi Freedom began, and the company he was in command of never got called out for Desert Storm.
“We got ready to go for Desert Storm,” Wilkinson said, “but then it was over.”
Looking back on his life in the military, he said he regrets never seeing combat. Not because he wanted to fight in a battle necessarily, but because his company ended up going without him when they were called to Iraq a few years ago.
“I had soldiers under me,” he said. “I would feel bad if they saw combat and I didn’t. It was my responsibility to get them ready.”
Now, Wilkinson’s uniform – decorated with various commendation ribbons, medals and his first sergeant insignia – fits a little tight.
He’s tired of being out of pocket, though. Harding began training him a few weeks ago, and Wilkinson plans to go to a “boot camp” of sorts in May.
Harding had plenty of good things to say about the man.
“Dedicated. Hard-working. A man of his word,” Harding said about his successor.
Wilkinson was more humble about himself.
“I just hope I do a good job for all the veterans,” he said. “I feel like I can.”
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