Soldier returns home after second tour overseas
BY Wes Wade (email@example.com)
Army Field Artillery Specialist (Spc.) Jody Walker’s year-long tour in the Farah province of Afghanistan was no vacation. There were no off days, no amenities.
But nearly a month after leaving the tiny village of Dukin — and the dirt-walled barracks he shared with the 20 other men in his platoon — he’s finally made it back home to Blount County.
Friday evening the 22-year-old Maryville High School graduate was thankful of that, arriving at a McGhee Tyson Airport corridor packed with the proud and relieved welcome wagon of family, friends and even strangers.
“I want to kiss the ground,” he said, met with dozens of American flags crowding the walkway. “It just feels good. Good to be back.”
Walker’s return marks the second official tour of duty for the field artillery specialist. His first deployment took him to Iraq for a year. While there he was provided modern housing and access to food and snack items readily available anywhere in the States.
In Afghanistan it was dirt walls, dirt floors and a two-stall outhouse for Walker and his Alpha Battery 4-42nd Field Artillery Batallion. Comfort foods and basic staples of home life came sporadically in care packages — delivered sometimes late, sometimes not at all — or from what a soldier could buy from the locals with whatever money he had, if any.
And anyone without a net guarding his bed might pull back a sheet at night to find a scorpion or some other unwelcomed guest already tucked in.
Morning it started
On the morning of Sept. 15, 2010, Walker’s platoon was drawn into a heavy firefight with enemy combatants lasting several hours. Late in the afternoon he was sent on routine patrol with about half a dozen other members of his platoon. His job was to man the rear artillery on one of two patrol vehicles. As he watched for enemies attempting an approach from behind, a roadside bomb detonated under the vehicle leading just in front of him.
“It lifted the whole vehicle off the ground and it landed on the other side of the culvert,” Walker said. “Everybody was OK. They were just completely out of it.”
Since Walker was stationed on top of the trailing vehicle as rear gunner, he was sprayed with flying rocks and debris. His colleagues inside were met with a shockwave from the blast.
“I thought we got hit because I was facing the rear, and I couldn’t see it,” Walker said. “I got hit with rocks and it felt like my head got ripped off because of the pressure. Dirt was everywhere. That’s all I could see.”
It had been relatively quiet the nearly two months leading up to that day, he said. But September 15 marked the beginning of routine firefights and the constant lookout for additional improvised explosive devices (IEDs). The roadside explosives were cheap and easy to make, he said. And they were plentiful.
Whether it’s an IED or an old-fashioned battle, it’s scary either way, Walker said.
“Getting pinned down in a firefight, that’s a bad feeling,” he said. “You don’t have anywhere to go. You stick your head out and bullets (are) flying everywhere. It’s a really scary feeling.”
Walker was later awarded a combat action badge for his performance after the IED explosion on Sept. 15. He came home with several others, including a certificate in recognition of good conduct. The four members of his platoon injured in the vehicle blown off the ground on that afternoon all received purple hearts. And the U.S. interpreter riding with them was awarded a civilian equivalent to the Medal of Honor, Walker said.
A day in the life
For a soldier in Walker’s platoon, a routine day consisted of patroling the area, guarding the barracks and riding out on missions. This was in addition to regular chores, like the once a day disposal of outhouse waste, and improvements to their make-shift barracks.
“We had workers come in, concrete the floors, concrete the patios,” Walker said. “We did our own construction building showers, building an awning, building a lot of stuff. And that’s on top of patrols, pulling guard ... we had to have at least two people on guard at all times ... that’s just (an) all-day thing, every single day, no break.”
And while Walker was mostly just glad to be home, his mother, Donna, was both quite proud and grateful to see him.
“We’re very, very proud of him,” she said. “What all the soldiers and troops do to protect our freedoms, they all deserve to be given this recognition. They put their lives on the line, they sacrifice daily.”
While everyone in the 4-42nd returned relatively unharmed, a member of Walker’s sister batallion was killed following an IED blast about a week before the 4-42nd shipped home.
“He’d only been over there five months,” Walker said. “(He) was 20 years old.”
Walker, a third generation soldier, returns to Fort Carson, Colorado, at the beginning of Sept.