Reluctant hero

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 23, 2012

CONCORD — Army Spc. Tyler Jeffries, a double amputee who was welcomed home Saturday as an American hero, said he feels uncomfortable with all the attention, knowing his soldier buddies are still on their mission to Afghanistan.
“It kind of sucks, what happened to me,” Jeffries said from a wheelchair, “but at the end of the day, they’re still there.”
Standing on his own to greet his fellow infantrymen of the 2-1 Attack Co. has become the driving force in Jeffries’ recovery. His company will be returning to Fort Lewis, Wash., in January, and Jeffries expects to be there.
In fact, he hasn’t completely given up hopes of being a fighting soldier again.
“I was made for combat,” he said.
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Some 500 motorcycles connected with the Patriot Guard Riders gave Jeffries a 389-mile escort Saturday from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., to a special reception at Crosspointe Baptist Church in Concord.
Along the route, riders dropped in and out through Virginia and North Carolina. Sometimes, well-wishers who heard of the journey waved and saluted the escort from interstate overpasses.
By the time Jeffries’ entourage reached the Concord church, roughly 75 Patriot Guard Riders on motorcycles were still with the Kia Sorento driven by Tyler’s mother, Pam Britt.
Her soldier son sat in the passenger seat beside her, and Tyler’s girlfriend, Jen Lee, rode in back.
Britt, who works for a vendor at the Food Lion headquarters in Salisbury, had stayed in Maryland with her son since his arrival at Walter Reed.
“It’s been really tough and a lot of pain, but I couldn’t have gotten where I have without my mom,” said Jeffries, 23, who was deployed to Afghanistan in April.
Jeffries lost both his legs Oct. 6 during an explosives-clearing mission with his team in a deserted mud-hut village of Afghanistan.
He was seriously wounded by a non-detectable, command-wire improvised explosive device (IED).
In the field, the quick actions of other soldiers probably saved his life. He underwent surgeries in Germany and again at Walter Reed, but he healed faster than most soldiers with similar injuries.
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In recent weeks, he has begun training on prosthetics, which he wore Saturday.
Many people in the crowd to greet him watched in amazement — and with some tears — when Jeffries, steadied by his father, Ted Jeffries, was able to use arm braces and walk about the length of a football field from the Kia to the front of the stage of the church’s Family Ministry Center.
There, he traded the crutches for a wheelchair and joined others on the stage while a packed house of well-wishers, many of them with the Patriot Guard, found seats prior to a huge meal.
Throughout a short program, the audience interrupted with several standing ovations as Mayor Scott Padgett declared Saturday “Tyler Jeffries Day.”
In addition, Va. and N.C. drive organizers with the Patriot Guard Riders gave Jeffries the organization’s flags that made the entire trips through their respective states.
“Our job is easy — we ride bikes, “ said Dennis Markle, who organized the Virginia part of the leg and rode the whole way. “Tyler had the difficult job.”
Pam Britt said Markle met Tyler and her about 5:30 a.m. outside Building 62 in Bethesda. It was 20 degrees when riders gathered for the start.
Jeffries also received an American flag that flew from the back of a motorcycle from Fredericksburg, Va. The trip left the flag, new when the day started, a bit tattered.
“It’s still Old Glory,” Jacobs said.
Jeffries is a native of Lake City, Fla., and graduated from Zephyrhills High School before moving to Concord about five years ago. His mother, stepfather Raymond Britt, brother Drew Jeffries and sister-in-law Ashley Jeffries also live in Concord.
Ted Jeffries lives in Florida where he works for the city of Tampa as a mechanical technician. Family members spent Thanksgiving with Tyler and Pam Britt in Bethesda, besides making other trips to see the recovering soldier.
Ashley Jeffries said if Tyler could not have been home for Christmas, the family definitely would have spent it with him in Maryland.
“We wouldn’t have made it through this without a strong family structure,” Raymond Britt said. “Words cannot describe the feeling to have my (step)son here, when other families haven’t been that blessed.”
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Friends of the Britts, Larry Hamilton and Terry Goff, built a long ramp at the Britt’s house so Tyler will have easier access now that he’s home.
Ted Jeffries, who traveled up from Florida to be with Tyler over Christmas, said the support shown for his son Saturday was fantastic and overwhelming.
“For our family, it means just about everything,” he said.
People lining the long driveway leading up to the church held “Welcome Home, Tyler” signs and American flags.
“It was important to be here,” said Tammy Pittman of Concord. “As far as Tyler’s concerned, he wanted to serve his country. At least I could welcome him home.’
Pittman waited for the motorcycle escort of Tyler’s car with her son, Lt. Samuel Pittman of the Army National Guard. Samuel Pittman already has been deployed twice to Kuwait.
Ashley Jeffries described her brother-in-law as a fiercely driven individual. She was able to see him attack some of his physical therapy, and “he would just keep on going,” she said. “He would not let anything stop him.”
Ted Jeffries added his youngest son is “the stubborn one of the bunch.” But it’s the kind of stubbornness that has kept him positive in his recovery.
“That’s one of the things the good lord gave him,” Ted Jeffries said.
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Both Drew and Tyler Jeffries played high school baseball in Florida. Ted Jeffries said he will never forget how Tyler, as an untried freshman, entered a game as a relief pitcher and struck out 10 of the 11 men he faced.
“We used to call him Captain Hook,” Drew Jeffries said, “because he had the best curve ball.”
Ted Jeffries said another boyhood nickname for Jeffries was “Skittles,” because of his fondness for the candy.
Coworkers of Pam Britt’s at Jacobson, a vendor within the Delhaize America Shared Services Group in Salisbury, donated their paid time off to her so Britt could be with her son and still receive a paycheck.
Many of the coworkers had an emotional reunion with Britt Saturday afternoon.
“She’s not going to leave his side,” Ashley Jeffries said of the resolve shown by Britt. “I think that’s every mother, too.”
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.