All Press Releases for April 13, 2008

Riverside Resident Retires as Top Enlisted Soldier of 91st Division, Decorated Vietnam Veteran Awarded Legion of Merit for Service

Soldiers with the 91st Division said good-bye to Command Sgt. Maj. James L. Wilkinson at a formal retirement ceremony and farewell dinner held April 5th.

    /24-7PressRelease/ - DUBLIN, CA, April 13, 2008 -- Soldiers with the 91st Division said good-bye to Command Sgt. Maj. James L. Wilkinson at a formal retirement ceremony and farewell dinner held April 5th. At the event, more than 150 of Wilkinson's friends, family and fellow soldiers were in attendance as the 91st Division's Commanding General, Maj. Gen. Bruce E. Zukauskas, presented him the Legion of Merit.

After the award presentation, several of the night's attendees took the opportunity to present gifts and express thanks to Wilkinson.

"Soldiering is an affair of the heart. I've certainly recognized that (in him) in the time that he and I have served together. He is the epitome of the American Soldier," Zukauskas said.

Wilkinson has been the 91st Division's Command Sergeant Major since September 2003.

"My tenure as the 91st Division Command Sergeant Major was the most rewarding and challenging assignment of my career," Wilkinson said. "But I enjoyed every assignment along the way, particularly those involving leadership and training positions.

"I hope I have had the most impact on less experienced soldiers by the example I have always attempted to maintain - lead by example, mission first, people second, and self last."

Since enlisting in the US Army in 1966, Wilkinson has spent 32 of the past 42 years serving in various roles. His service has taken him to Michigan as a young soldier on foot patrol during the 1967 Detroit Riot, to Vietnam as an Airborne Infantry Squad Leader, to his last position as a division Command Sergeant Major.

During the 1967 Detroit Riot, while assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division, Wilkinson was one of the soldiers sent in as part of Task Force Detroit to help restore peace to the community. In a matter of days his unit's mission was accomplished and he had experienced his first time assault with live bullets being fired by a sniper.

Not long after helping calm the problems in Detroit, he was re-assigned as an Infantry Squad Leader with the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Ken., and deployed with that unit to the Republic of Vietnam on Dec. 1, 1967.

Wilkinson participated in five campaigns during his tour in Vietnam, receiving the Purple Heart after suffering a shoulder wound in a firefight near the Iron Triangle. He returned to the United States in December 1968. He was discharged from active duty in 1969 and from the Inactive Reserve in 1972. In February 1982, he re-entered military service.

"I had left the military to attend college," Wilkinson said. "After college and law school, the start of my civilian career, marriage and the birth of my son, I still missed the military and decided to join the 18th Cavalry, California National Guard on a 'Try One' (year) enlistment. The rest is history."

Wilkinson was selected as the 18th Cavalry Noncommissioned Officer of the Year in 1984. In 1985 he transferred to the Army Reserve and in 1987 was selected as the 63rd ARCOM Noncommissioned Officer of the Year and the Sixth Army Noncommissioned Officer of the Year (Reserve Component).

"The Army has been the most influential, and formative, experience of my life. It taught me to be disciplined, to persevere, to be physically and mentally fit, and exposed me to some absolutely wonderful people I probably never would have known except for the service," said Wilkinson.

Wilkinson's military career comes to a close with him as the top enlisted member of the 91st Division. Zukauskas' final recorded words to Wilkinson during his retirement ceremony convey a thought and emotion shared by many: "It has been an honor and a privilege to serve with you. Thank you and I wish you the very best."

As a civilian, Wilkinson is employed by the Crete Carrier Corporation, Shaffer Trucking as a Regional Sales Manager for the Western United States. He has been married to the former Alanna Lassandro of Riverside, Calif. since 1977 and resides in Riverside with Alanna and their son Clay.

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