FORT HOOD — Spc. Jason Walker was severely injured when he and his fellow troops were hit by a roadside bomb last year. After heading back home for multiple surgeries and healing, Walker was once again able to stand with his Army buddies during a ceremony Thursday at Fort Hood.
“I said I would be back in uniform, standing ... to welcome them back,” Walker said. His injuries make standing for more than a few minutes a difficult task nowadays.
But that didn’t deter Walker — or the six other 8th Engineer Battalion, 36th Engineer Brigade soldiers standing at his side — from receiving a Purple Heart at the morning ceremony.
Lt. Col. Kenneth N. Reed, commander of the 20th Engineer Battalion, and Brig. Gen. Douglas M. Gabram, deputy commander of the 1st Cavalry Division, presented the awards. In addition to Walker, Purple Hearts were presented to Pfc. Danielle Robeldo, 937th Clearance Company, and Sgt. Joe Deleon, Sgt. Jesus Perez, Spc. Jason Walker, Spc. Karon Meyers, Pfc. Johnny Beck and Pfc. Michael McKenzie, each of the 87th Sapper Company.
Roadside bombs injured the recipients in three separate incidents in the summer and fall of 2013 in Afghanistan.
“These soldiers represent the very best of our Army,” Gabram said. “It’s a great day.”
He cited the post-injury actions of Walker as an example of the soldiers’ sacrifices.
Walker’s wife, Ashlie, wiped away tears as she held the couple’s 13-month-old son, describing the months leading up to this moment. The military wanted to host his ceremony in San Antonio, but Walker insisted on receiving his medal alongside his fellow soldiers.
“A lot of soldiers call (each other) brothers, but they’re closer than family,” she said.
Deleon was in the blast behind Walker. The two stood side by side as they received their medals.
“They’re dealing with guilt — guilt over not being able to finish the deployment, survivor’s guilt. It’s the war after war,” Ashlie Walker said.
Walker was elated to receive his medal at Fort Hood. His 7-year-old son beamed as they embraced.
Walker’s Army buddies were glad to see him again.
“It means a lot for him to be there with Walker,” said Deleon’s wife, Rosalie. “It feels so wonderful.”
For Robeldo, her injury came as an unexpected shock, serving as a female in a noncombat position.
“It’s made me stronger,” she said, adding her faith guided her through the recovery.
A portion of the battalion still remains in Afghanistan as the drawdown of troops continues. “Their primary concern is their brothers and sisters downrange,” Gabram said. “You don’t find that every day.”