Forest Grove soldier faces altered future after he loses foot in Afghan War

by: COURTESY PHOTO - Army Specialist Jason Walker, a Forest Grove native, smiles from his hospital bed in Germany last weekend after suffering the loss of his left foot to an improvised explosive device in eastern Afghanistan (left). Right, Ashlie and Jason Walker were sweethearts at Forest Grove High School, where she was a member of the Class of 2002 and he graduated with the Class of 2003. They married in September 2006.When Ashlie White married Jason Walker on Sept. 23, 2006, she promised to love and care for him for better or for worse.

It didn’t take long for the Forest Grove High School graduates to start a family and then settle into the rhythm of life in the military after Jason joined the Army. In 2009, he left on his first mission with Operation Enduring Freedom.

Twice Jason returned home from duty unscathed. But last Thursday, during his third deployment since America’s military roared into action following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the “worse” in the Walkers’ wedding vows crashed onto the scene.

Six days before this twelfth anniversary of 9/11, Specialist Jason Walker stepped on a plastic improvised explosive device “about the size of the cap of a Gatorade bottle” and hidden near a stream bed in the Wardak Province of east-central Afghanistan, Ashlie said Monday.

It was a life-changing footstep — and another reminder of how the aftermath of 9/11 still ripples across the country and into small towns such as Forest Grove.

Jason, who grew up in Dilley, is a combat engineer with the 87th Sapper Company, part of the 36th Engineer Brigade out of Fort Hood, Texas.

Moments before he encountered the IED, he and his fellow soldiers were on foot, scouting for roadside bombs, with instructions to neutralize any they encountered and clear the area. by: COURTESY PHOTO - Jason Walker received the Purple Heart Medal, awarded to soldiers wounded in combat, in a German hospital Friday by an unidentified brigadier sergeant major and a two-star general.

The 28-year-old soldier “felt something bad as he fell down,” Ashlie said, “and the next thing he knew, his mouth was full of dirt. When he woke up, he was lying in the water.”

He wasn’t yet aware that his left foot was gone, blown to bits by the plastic IED.

Jason’s unit members carried him to safety and did their best to staunch the bleeding. They loaded their comrade onto a helicopter, which transported him to a medical center in Germany. By Saturday, doctors had amputated his left leg at mid-calf and were trying to figure out why he had no feeling in his right leg, which was hit by shrapnel.

The same afternoon in his hospital bed, Jason was awarded the Purple Heart, a medal given to military personnel wounded in combat. Still heavily sedated, Jason smiled as a brigadier sergeant major and a two-star Army general flanked his bedside to present the commendation.

On Monday, Ashlie received word that her husband was able to move the toes on his right foot — a flash of hope amid a swirl of medical challenges that included several consecutive days of fevers that sometimes spiked to 102 degrees.

“When he left Texas for this deployment he was right at 220 pounds, and he’s currently at 177, so he’s lost weight,” Ashlie noted. “Every morning he was running 10 miles or more. He’s in the best physical shape of his life, which is good because it’ll help with his recovery.”

The discovery of renewed sensation in his foot was welcome news to Jason.

“He was so happy, because he’ll be able to tap his toes when he plays the guitar now,” she wrote on her Facebook page.

Reunion this week

by: COURTESY PHOTO - Jason Walker holds his now 8-month-old son, Ryan, before his latest deployment to Afghanistan in May. Hes back on U.S. soil this week after stepping on an improvised explosive device.Jason and Ashlie expected to be reunited Tuesday or Wednesday at San Antonio Military Medical Center, flying in from opposite ends of the world. Ashlie, 29, planned to bring their two young sons — Jacob, 6, and Ryan, 8 months — along with her to hunker down for what she expects to be a protracted period of recovery for the young soldier.

“My little family of four is my world,” said Ashlie. “The thought of it shattering really shook me up. Over the past three days I feel like I’ve matured years and years.”

In the weeks to come, Jason will be fitted for a prosthetic leg and begin learning how to walk again. The 5-foot-7 private is determined to stand tall.

“My husband is very adamant that when his ‘brothers’ come home, he is going to be standing up and cheering,” said Ashlie.

“Even though all of this hasn’t sunk in yet, I feel like maybe this was preordained, like this is a calling of sorts,” Ashlie said of Jason’s accident. “I know he is in for an uphill battle to normalcy, but I feel privileged to be able to be there with him every step of the way.”

She expects their eldest son to have the most difficulty adjusting to his daddy’s situation. “Jacob is taking the news the hardest,” Ashlie said. “But we will get through it, day by day.”

Army response

For now, Ashlie is focusing on shifting her household from Vancouver, Wash., to Texas — and having her husband back in her arms for good.

She and her sons will likely be joined before too long by other family members, including Jason’s mother, Margaret Rystrom, a former Dilley resident who now lives in Enterprise, Ore.

“I can’t stress how important family has always been to me,” Ashlie said.

She is grateful to U.S. Department of Defense officials for giving her swift notice in the wake of Jason’s mishap overseas.

“It was crazy quick,” Ashlie said of the military’s response. Jason’s injury occurred around 7:30 a.m. Pacific Coast time last Thursday. By 9:55 a.m., he was on the phone with her.

“My husband was actually the one who initially contacted me from the closest hospital,” said Ashlie, who was astonished to hear his voice on the line.

“He said, ‘Honey, my leg got blown off. But don’t be worried because I’m going to be all right,’” she recalled. Right away, the tears flowed.

“He’s my love,” Ashlie said. “He’s my hero. I can’t wait to get to Jason and be that leg for him to stand on.”

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