EDITOR’S NOTE: CBS 6 reporter Greg McQuade is telling the stories of veterans who have returned to Central Virginia after serving their country in Iraq or Afghanistan. Look for Greg’s reports each Wednesday on the CBS 6 News at 11 or click here to view them on WTVR.com. If you know a veteran whose story Greg should tell, let Greg know on his Facebook page.
RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) – When men and women in uniform march off to war, it’s enemy machine gun fire and mortar attacks that rank high on the list of deployment pitfalls.
But for Chief James Wilburn, with the United States Army, something else tops the list–separation from his family.
He’s been with the military for 15 years and knows that life on the military road can seem never ending and filled with countless potholes.
“Afghanistan was the only place that made me miss Iraq,” Wilburn says.
Since 2003 James has been deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq a total of four times.
“After the initial few months you get used to the environment. We had been driving three days non-stop. We had a few mortars come our way,” Wilburn says.
The most trying parts of each deployment were not the harsh conditions or the enemy. What Wilburn found most challenging was the separation between his own little army.
“I got a seven and six year old daughter and three year old son,” James says.
He’s missed more birthdays and ‘firsts’ than he cares to remember.
“It is very difficult. Not a day goes by that I don’t wish that I could have been home playing with them,” James says.
He credits his wife of Tessa of nine years with holding down the fort on the home front.
“I would say during my deployment, she’s worked harder than I have,” James says.
His 530th Combat Sustainment Battalion provides everything front line soldiers need to survive and fight–like food, fuel, water and ammunition.
“Whenever you miss the boat on getting them the things they need there is lives that is involved,” James says.
It is an exhausting round-the-clock, seven day a week job.
“My first deployment I slept through machine gun fire and mortars every night,” he said.
“ I would wake up in the morning and say, ‘Hey! I’m alive. Nothing hit me!’”
James says in a theatre of war the enemy doesn’t punch a clock.
“They watch everything we do. If you don’t think about it you become lackadaisical,” James says. “You go through with your guard down that is when they hit you.”
With his loved ones half a world away, James and his fellow soldiers leaned heavily on each other.
“The camaraderie, it builds. You’re both in it together. You’re both away from you kids. You’re both away from your family. You’re all you got.”
In January, the 530th packed up and returned to Fort Lee from Afghanistan. It was a fourth deployment that seemed to last a lifetime. James doesn’t think he will return to war, but if he needs to go he’ll be ready?
“I’m proud to serve. I love what I do. I wake-up happy to do it every day,” James says.
These days James is soaking up a small army of his own on friendly soil.
“It is time that won’t be replaced,” James says. “I’m sure going to spend every day trying to make up for the time that I have missed.”
Every soldier knows, no matter how hard it is being away eventually that long military road will always lead home.
“It is euphoric. There is no greater feeling than seeing your kids and wife after a long deployment.”