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Veteran who lost leg in Afghanistan returns to Forest Grove for visit

by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Army Spc. Jason Walker walks across the tarmac at the Hillsboro Airport on his first trip back to Washington County since losing a leg in the Afghan War. 
Forest Grove native Jason Walker strode across the tarmac at the Hillsboro Airport Wednesday into the waiting arms of relatives who welcomed him home for the first time since he lost a leg while serving in the Middle East.

A military honor guard also showed up to greet the returning veteran.

“It’s so nice here!” Walker exulted under clear-blue skies, accompanied by his wife Ashlie and the couple’s sons, Jacob, 7, and Ryan, 2. The weather, he observed, was “much better” than in San Antonio, Texas, where the Army specialist has been recuperating for nine months at Brooke Army Medical Center in Fort Sam Houston.

“It’s hot and humid there, and there are bugs,” he said, flashing a wide grin. Walker, 29, who graduated from Forest Grove High School in 2003, stepped on an improvised explosive device (IED) in the Paktika province of southeastern Afghanistan on Sept. 5, 2013. Doctors amputated his left leg below the knee and fitted him with a prosthetic device.

Because he was injured in combat as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, Walker — a combat engineer with the 87th Sapper Company, 36th Engineer Brigade out of Fort Hood, Texas — was awarded the Purple Heart. In May, he completed a triathlon by biking eight miles, swimming 500 meters and walking two miles.

Before Walker returns to Texas in mid-July to continue his studies through Virginia-based Liberty University (he eventually hopes to become an elementary school teacher) he and his family aim to pack a lot of activity into their three-week trip home. On Friday, Walker will serve as best man at the wedding of his friend, Brent Voigt, whom he met in Forest Grove in 1992. He’ll also travel to Enterprise, Ore., to visit his dad and stepmom.

“We’re going to just have fun,” said Ashlie Walker, who pushed her husband’s wheelchair toward a waiting rental car once the reception line thinned.

But first things first: Forest Grove Fire & Rescue personnel gave young Jacob Walker a ride in a big red engine, leading the entourage along Highway 8 between Hillsboro and Forest Grove.

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