yler Jeffries stood Sunday afternoon at the head of the flight line, waiting for the soldiers coming off a plane at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
The emphasis should be on the word “stood.” It was the first time Jeffries’ fellow infantrymen had seen him since Oct. 6, the day when an enemy explosive tore through both of his legs during a mission in Afghanistan.
Jeffries was point man on that assignment, and here he was — upright on artificial legs — serving as point man again for his buddies’ return to U.S. soil.
During the months since the explosion, Jeffries had fueled the start of a long recovery by promising himself he would stand and greet his platoon on its return to Lewis-McChord, located near Tacoma, Wash.
Depending on crutches for balance, Jeffries was first in line at the bottom of the plane’s steps.
“It was awesome,” he said.
Members of his platoon greeted the 23-year-old Jeffries almost in disbelief.
“It was a very emotional day,” said Pam Britt, Tyler’s mother, who was able to watch the scene from a nearby hangar. “It was hard for the guys to see him. The last time they saw Tyler, he was in very bad shape. Everybody was hugging him.”
Only the quick actions of members of his platoon, Jeffries said, stopped the blood flow from his wounds and saved his life after the IED (improvised explosive device) attack.
“They didn’t even hesitate,” Jeffries said Wednesday, back home in Concord. “They were the ones who saved my life.
“They’re like family. When the world comes crashing down on you, those are the only guys you got. It meant a lot to see them.”
Jeffries, Britt and Britt’s husband, Ray, made the trip to and from Washington state in style.
Thanks to the Veterans Airlift Command, they left last Thursday, flying in a six-passenger Learjet sent to pick them up in Concord.
The VAC provides free air transportation to wounded warriors through a national network of volunteer aircraft owners and pilots.
The private jet stopped for refueling in Rapid City, S.D., and later arrived at Joint Army-Air Force base near Tacoma.
“We had a huge welcoming when we got there,” Pam Britt said.
Members of Jeffries 4,000-person brigade were arriving 300 to 500 soldiers at a time over several days. The men in his 2-1 Attack Co. were delayed until Sunday afternoon.
Jeffries was closest to his 3rd Platoon of 30 men, who had been stationed, he said, at a tiny base “in the middle of nowhere” in Afghanistan.
On the mission in which he was wounded, the enemy secretly watched the American group until Jeffries was close enough. They then detonated the hidden, command-wire IED.
After tourniquets were applied and Jeffries’ bleeding was stopped in the field, he was transported first to Germany, then Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.
Jeffries came home for the holidays to a hero’s welcome in Concord Dec. 22. He and his mother were packing Wednesday in preparation for returning to Walter Reed and eight to 10 more months of daily physical and occupational therapy.
At the Fort Lewis homecoming, the returning soldiers were taken to a hangar to check their weapons. They then boarded a bus to an on-base gymnasium, which was divided by a large tarp.
The soldiers gathered in formation on one side, while the families waited in bleachers on the other. A joyful reunion followed when the tarp went up.
“Tyler was on the front line with them,” Pam Britt said. “It was fantastic to have him standing with his guys.”
Britt says her son spent close to two hours standing on his temporary artificial legs, and he endured considerable pain to do so. He didn’t want to be in a wheelchair during those early hours of seeing his fellow soldiers again.
“He hates being confined to that chair,” Britt said.
Jeffries was unable to wear his Army uniform because the pants would not fit over his prosthetic legs. Britt said her son instead wore clothing given to him by the Wounded Warrior Project.
Of all the men and women in his brigade, Jeffries was the only one with serious wounds during this Afghan tour, Britt said.
“It was something else to see the respect and admiration guys had for him,” Britt said. “They really wanted to see him more than they did their families.”
Jeffries and the Britts returned home by Learjet Tuesday.
Back at Walter Reed, Jeffries and his mother — he’s required to have someone with him through the complete rehabilitation — will be living in a two-bedroom apartment in Building 62 where other wounded warriors and their family members reside.
Once again, Britt said, her bosses and coworkers at Jacobson, a vendor based at the Food Lion headquarters in Salisbury, have been “fantastic” in giving her the time needed to be with her son.
Jeffries said his military future is uncertain. He had recently reenlisted for four years and probably could receive a medical retirement in 18 months to two years.
He also could stay in the Army, though he acknowledged Wednesday if he couldn’t return to the infantry, he probably would opt out.
Jeffries has a new goal. It’s not only to walk again, which he is sure he will do.
He plans to run again, and he wants to run next to his friends in the 3rd Platoon.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263,or email@example.com.