Jason Walker, son of Margaret Rystrom and Brian Walker of Enterprise, takes his first steps with a prosthetic foot outfitted for him at Brooke Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas. Walker lost his foot while serving the U.S. Army in Afghanistan.
Enterprise family overwhelmed by generosity during son’s recovery from war injuries
ENTERPRISE — One family’s worst fears of a son at war are being assuaged by support from its local community, the U.S. Army and some incredible care from The Fisher House in San Antonio, Tex.
Margaret Rystrom of Enterprise received a call in September from her daughter-in-law, Ashlie Walker, who said Rystrom’s son, Jason, had lost his left foot in an explosion in Afghanistan.
“At first we thought he was dead, but when we heard his foot got blown off I said, ‘That’s OK, we can handle that. He’s coming home alive,’” Rystrom said.
Rystrom said she and her husband, Brian Walker, went into “hyper-mode.” Walker started trying to find out more about his son, but finding the right phone number was difficult.
“I tried calling the Army’s number in the phone book and it sends you to the employment department,” Walker said. “I tried to call the recruiting office in La Grande. It was closed. I tried Pendleton. It was closed. I called the Army ROTC unit commander at Eastern Oregon University. His response was, ‘I don’t even know where to begin but if you give me a half hour I’ll find out.’”
Walker said he got a call back and was connected to the Army’s Casualty Assistance Center. He also got a call from Wallowa County Commissioner Susan Roberts, who gave him a number for veterans assistance. Suddenly, Rystrom and Walker were receiving a flood of support.
“At Fort Knox’s Casualty Assistance Center they have round-the-clock coverage,” Walker said. “From them we got a confirmation that Jason had been injured.”
Thinking he may have to travel abroad to see his son, Walker got a passport application at the courthouse. County Clerk Dana Roberts gave him the phone number for Robert Duncan, a passport photographer in Joseph.
“I called him from the clerk’s office and he said, ‘Come up, we’ll do it right now,’ and he wouldn’t let me pay for it. I know a professional photographer has to make a living, but Robert told me, ‘This is because I support our service people,’” Walker said.
He said he went back to the courthouse and Roberts told him she had put in some calls to help expedite a passport.
“I received all of this by simply saying, ‘My son has been injured and I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do?’ And everyone was helping out,” he said.
Rystrom said she called Charlene Haines of the Enterprise Congregational Church to add Jason to the church’s prayer chain. The phone started ringing with calls from members of their parish and within a half hour Haines was on their doorstep.
“She hung out for a while offering support,” Rystrom said. “It was very helpful.”
Later that day, Walker and Rystrom received a call. Their son had come out of his emergency surgeries and was able to talk on the phone.
“Jason said, ‘Mom, it’s OK, I just lost my foot. I blocked all the blast and no one else got hurt,’” Rystrom said.
Walker and Rystrom said they are overwhelmed by the outpouring from their neighbors in spite of moving to Wallowa County after their son graduated from high school in Washington County.
“Jason didn’t go to school here, he didn’t live here, but people care,” Walker said. “I went to the VFW last night and a couple people asked how he was doing. That happens to us all the time. We run into someone we don’t know very well and they ask us, ‘How’s your boy doing?’”
Walker didn’t end up needing a passport. His son was only in Afghanistan a couple more days before he was flown to Germany. Within a week he was at the Center for the Intrepid rehabilitation facility at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio.
“The Center for the Intrepid is a state-of-the art rehabilitation center that uses sports medicine to get service people in good enough condition to return to work,” Walker said. “Some will even compete in paralympic competitions.”
To get the best prosthetic fit, Walker said the center has a floor with different surfaces such as grass, rocks or stairs and the floor is lined with sensors and surrounded by video cameras. As the service person walks around he is being evaluated and doctors can make changes to the prosthetic on the spot.
Shortly after Jason Walker arrived in San Antonio, his wife and children were flown in, met at the airport by military personnel and taken to the Fisher House, a home where families stay free of charge while a service person recovers from injury or illness.
According to the Fisher House website, in 1990, Zachary and Elizabeth Fisher began the Fisher House program, dedicating more than $20 million to the construction of comfort homes for families of hospitalized military personnel. Twenty-nine Fisher Houses now operate at 17 military bases and at five Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers throughout the nation.
Walker said the foundation provided a place for Rystrom and he to stay when they went to visit Jason and provided round trip airfare.
“We’ve gotten eight or nine tickets from them so far,” Walker said.
Jason Walker will continue his rehabilitation at the Center for the Intrepid for the next 18 months to two years. His wife and children are staying at the Fisher House while he recovers. After that, he intends to report for active duty at Fort Lewis in Tacoma, Wash.