Mum's hard life with son overseas
THERE is a flicker of hope inside Ursula Tunks every time the phone rings followed by an air of disappointment when she realises it's not her son.
Lance Corporal Zeek Wilkinson is stationed in Tarin Kowt, southern Afghanistan – a soldier in the transport division supplying forward operating posts in the war against the Taliban.
Yesterday it was eight days since Ursula had heard from her boy – a little longer than normal and a day overdue from the promise he made on the Monday before last – “I'll call you in a week”.
Ursula, who runs the Premium Cafe in Westlawn, Premium Ideas and Marketing and has been actively engaged in the push for a Police Citizens Youth Club for Grafton, understands that a message such as this one means that her son is ‘going outside' into the battle zone and he would call her when he can.
Reports of several attacks on facilities in Tarin Kowt in recent days do nothing to ease Ursula's mind but, she said, no news can be good news.
Official word would have reached her by now, she said, if the worst had happened.
Zeek, now 26, served time in East Timor before his Afghanistan deployment last September.
He has served for four and a half years in the army but the worry, Ursula said, is not something you ever really get used to.
“I was alright at first but now its fighting season ... it's going into their summer – over winter the Taliban go back and retreat into Pakistan allegedly and then in summer they start fighting again.”
Ursula described an incident Zeek was involved in just before Christmas in which an under-road bomb was detonated under an armoured troup carrier.
“His truck in the convoy drove over the bomb three seconds before it went off,” she said.
“Other people were getting the shakes from adrenalin but he just calmly retrieved the damaged Bush Master and had to detach trailers and stuff.
“He said he was so relieved because his biggest fear was how he would cope with a major situation like that ... after that incident he said ‘I know I'm meant to be here, mum'.
“I think he's more worried about leaving us behind than something happening to him.”
Ursula was spoilt by her son in February – a trip to Rome and Dublin, a ball gown purchased in Rome for an Irish Valentine's Day Ball – all presents from an adoring son.
“When he was leaving Dublin he made me promise to look after his dad and his step mum and his brother and sister and ... it was a bit much.
“I know he's anxious because when he gets back he rings me two and three times a day but he'd never say he's frightened.”
So why does Zeek chose to serve?
Aside from his clear sense of public duty, Ursula said defence was in his blood – from a great, great, great, grandfather who served as a marine in the Rum Corps, to Ursula's grandfather (and his two brothers) who served in WWI in the navy and WWII in the army, to Ursula's father who did national service.
Having studied Australian culture during previous wars, Ursula said there simply wasn't the support base at home that there used to be.
“Where you would have had half a dozen people in your street with people away, you don't have that support now – you got half a dozen people that will walk in and say they shouldn't be there, well they are there.”