Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Andrew Perkins reported killed in Iraq

Rio Communities Outside a white brick home, nestled quietly at the end of a cul-de-sac, an American flag waves gently in the morning breeze.

Inside the home, a family is grieving.

On Monday afternoon, Weldon Perkins received the news that his son Specialist E4 Andrew had been killed by an IED (improvised explosive device), while on patrol north of Baghdad.

For the family, the devastating news came as a shock, and although they were all aware of the dangers Andrew faced on a daily basis doing his job, they never expected him not to come home.

It was 2 p.m. when four soldiers came knocking on their door.

"Liz (Andrew's stepmother) spotted them from the kitchen, and she just started saying 'No, no, no, no, no,'" Perkins said, his voice breaking. "It was horrible."

Through tears, Perkins reflects back to the last conversation he had with his son on Friday at 11:20 a.m. He remembers it vividly.

"He (Andrew) was coming home for a visit next month," Perkins said. "He told me not to tell anybody because it was supposed to be a surprise."

Andrew, a paratrooper in the U.S. Army, served with the 82nd Airborne 3rd Battalion stationed out of Fort Bragg, N.C. Last August, his battalion was deployed to Iraq to serve a one-year tour of service. His dad said being a paratrooper was something Andrew always knew he wanted to do.

"He always loved the military, all his life," Perkins said. "He wanted to make it his life."

Perkins said Andrew had just re-upped for another tour of service in the Army before he was killed and was planning to transfer to Fort Hood, Texas, to be closer to family. He had also just finished taking his boards and was going to be promoted to sergeant when he died.

Andrew was born in Lubbock, Texas, to Weldon and Kathy Perkins and graduated from Amarillo High School in 1998 before moving to Tucson, Ariz., where his dad was living.

In Tucson, Andrew worked with severely disabled people for several years before joining the service, his dad said. Although Andrew never lived in New Mexico, his family moved to Belen in 2003. His mother, Kathy, is living in Oklahoma but could not be reached for comment.

As the phone continuously rings at the Perkins home, Perkins lovingly thinks back to when his son was young and remembers him jumping off roofs, skateboarding, mountain biking, running, playing baseball and rock climbing.

"He was the runt of the litter," Perkins fondly recalls. "He had the most bruised up shins of any person I ever knew in my life. He was always making everyone laugh."

Last July, Perkins and Andrew took a day trip together, something they had always wanted to do.

"One thing we'd never done together was take a motorcycle ride, so we spent a day together and took Highway 66 to Grants," Perkins said smiling, remembering that day. "We just had a blast."

Liz said it was something they hadn't been able to do before because of Perkins health, but when he finally got the chance, he and Andrew took the trip.

"Andrew told his dad, "That's the best time of my life, Dad,'" Liz said, breaking into tears.

While they didn't come from a military background, Andrew's older brother, Aaron, is also in the U.S. Army and is currently serving overseas in South Korea.

"He was inspired by Andrew to join the military," Perkins said.

Perkins' son-in-law, Major Jason Beaty, advised him to call the Red Cross, so Aaron could be notified of his brother's death. Perkins said he talked with his other son, and Aaron is on his way back to the states at this time.

While details of the circumstances surrounding Andrew's death are not clear, Perkins said from what he's gathered so far, his son was on night patrol between Baghdad and Tikrit.

"From what I've gathered from the information officer, it appears he died in Tikrit, but I don't know for sure," Perkins said through tears. "He was killed instantaneously by an IED. He died at 2 p.m. Sunday, New Mexico time."

With agonizing emotion, Liz said in the last call they received from Andrew, she knew his voice didn't sound the same. "I could tell something was different about his voice that day," she said. "I know they're (the soldiers) tired and worn out and he was getting ready to go to bed, but I knew something was wrong."

But one thing Liz said Andrew always conveyed was his love. "He always said I love you."

Perkins revealed some of the conversation he had with his son that Friday saying, "He told me he loved me and he said "everything I am is because of you. I can't wait to get home," Perkins said, trying hard to hold his emotions together.

What Perkins will miss most about his son is his strong hugs and his smile.

"He'd just crush you with his hugs," Perkins said. "He wanted to be hugged so hard his back popped. He was so tender-hearted."

Final arrangements have not been made at this time, but Perkins said he thought he'd bury his son in Roswell, next to the plots he has for himself and his wife.

"I just want everybody to know how much he loved his job," Liz said proudly. "He was so proud of his beret, and what he believed in."

From the News Bulletin