Pleasanton Weekly

Column - February 6, 2009

A 'sentinel' of freedom moves to Pleasanton

by Jeb Bing

Jay Wilkerson was honored by the City Council last Tuesday. A former Army sergeant who suffered severe head injuries three years ago when rocket-propelled grenades struck his Humvee, Wilkerson has now moved to Pleasanton under a Sentinels of Freedom program that helps seriously wounded veterans re-start their lives. Championed by Councilman Jerry Thorne and its founder Mike Conklin, Sentinels is unique in the U.S. in that it uses contributions and grants to provide comprehensive support systems for some 30 recovering soldiers like Wilkerson to again assimilate in communities and fulfill their ambitions. In Wilkerson's case, Pleasanton mentors in the Sentinels organization include David Cooper, Doug Miller and Judy Lloyd who will be working with Wilkerson to move into an apartment the Sentinels organization is providing in the Promenade apartment complex on Case Avenue. He also has been given a car and a full four-year college scholarship, and he's already signed up for summer classes at Los Positas College.

Wilkerson's positive, forward-thinking attitude is remarkable given what he's endured since the attack on March 28, 2006, which killed his buddy sitting next to him and left him almost brain-dead and in a coma for the next 39 days. Flown to the Army's main hospital in Germany and then to Walter Reed in Washington, Wilkerson was startled when he first awoke, unable to speak, talk, walk or to recognize most friends and family. He had a nurse post an American flag by his bed so he would be reassured he was actually back in the States. He credits the Army's skilled medical teams and their strenuous physical and mental therapies for starting him on the road to recovery. In some injuries, brains cells rebuild and reconnect, and Wilkerson found his own responding to the treatments. As he recovered, he was transferred to the Veterans clinic in Palo Alto, one of four special treatment centers for brain damaged soldiers with a high success rate for nearly full recoveries. Once he'd crossed that threshold, he became a candidate for the Sentinels of Freedom for the life-changing opportunities the organization provides.

Wilkerson stopped by the Pleasanton Weekly Tuesday in advance of his City Council tribute. Knowing about his injury, I was amazed at how far he's come in just three years. He's agile, smart, excellent in conversation and has a great sense of humor, some of it a bit deprecating even. In the early days of his recovery, he told me, he had to write everything down, including what we were saying, because short-term memory still wasn't functioning. Then he bought a PDA to make that part of recovery easier. Wanting to drive again (the Sentinels provide a free car along with an apartment), he took a driver's ed simulator course in Palo Alto, passing the course only after showing that he could keep driving while tuning the radio. Still a problem, though, he joked, are groceries. He likes to eat and enjoys certain foods, such as fish, the most. But often he'll come back from a shopping trip with chicken instead of fish and, the next day, more chicken. He has stacks of the same cereal boxes and canned foods. "I guess it's back to writing everything down," he said.

With the Sentinels' help, Wilkerson has a temporary job with the city of Pleasanton, helping out in different departments as needed until he finds permanent employment, again through the Sentinels. When he can, Wilkerson also plans to work with the Sentinels and other organizations to help those with disabilities. In his recovery, he has found shortcuts around obstacles, such as testing the temperature of liquids with his elbow since his fingertips have lost their sensitivity. Most important, he has found outreach and friendships to be healing forces, maintaining a positive can-do attitude that he says makes the future brighter--and do-able.

Comments

Posted by Karen Silveira, a resident of Livermore
on Feb 13, 2009 at 11:08 am

Praise God for this brave young man. I wish JAY all the best. My son just arrived home from Iraq. In the military, we are all family. Welcome home to JAY!! I have experienced a HUGE support system for our military as they come back home, especially from the VETS and local Politicians. Thanks to all of them as well. Most Sincerely, Karen


Posted by Jerry, a resident of Oak Hill
on Feb 13, 2009 at 11:16 am

Thanks for your service Sergeant Wilkerson.

You are one of the best of the best our country has to offer.

I wish you well...


Posted by Cholo, a resident of Livermore
on Feb 13, 2009 at 3:44 pm

Dear Sergeant Wilson,

Thank you for you courageous service to our country. I salute you!


101st Airborn
Fort Campbell Kentucky
Vietnam Veteran


Posted by Cholo, a resident of Livermore
on Feb 13, 2009 at 3:45 pm

Correction: Thank you for your service to our country. I SALUTE YOU!


Posted by marie, a resident of Del Prado
on Feb 15, 2009 at 1:10 pm

A hearty welcome home to you, Jay! My family is thankful you served our country (as did both of our fathers) and we wish you a continued recovery. Your wonderful smile hints at a very strong and determined soul. May Pleasanton and its community provide you with the structure on which you continue to climb.

Many prayers for you!


Posted by DMZ- LT, a resident of Pleasanton Valley
on May 4, 2009 at 4:55 am

Welcome Home ! Thank you for your service. Opa , Vietnam Vet , 101st.


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