SILVER SPRING, Md.—Each time Joey Jones comes home to Dawnville, Ga., cameras crowd for attention and an interview is always pending.
But on this trip, the U.S. Marine sergeant, who lost both his legs last year in an explosion in Afghanistan, just wants to see his son, Braiden, on the boy’s second birthday.
Jones and his fiancee, Meg Garrison, left Maryland on Friday night to drive back to his Georgia home for the week.
While he’s happy to talk with well-wishers and local media interested in his story later next week, the party is for Braiden and that’s private, he said.
The outpouring of support after his injuries “restored my faith in this country,” he said. “I owe it to those people to let them know how I’m doing.”
The party will be the first birthday of his son’s Jones has been able to attend. Last year, the 24-year-old bomb technician was making footpaths and alleyways safe for troops and civilians across Afghanistan.
Just weeks later, Jones would take a step that changed his life.
While on a combat operation that encountered dozens of improvised explosive devices strewn across fields and a market called the Safar Bazaar, Jones responded to calls of bomb-making materials found in the Afghan equivalent of a mechanic’s shop.
After finishing the task, he and Marines with him rested briefly in a back alleyway. As they were moving to the next task, Jones stepped on an IED that exploded, losing both of his legs above the knee and damaging his wrists and hands.
A whirlwind of flights and doctors landed him at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., where Garrison and his family met him.
That was nearly a year ago and, in the time since, he’s gone from the hospital bed to wheelchairs to short, 2-foot long artificial legs to now wearing robotic legs that bring him close to 6 feet tall.
Jones still heads to the hospital each day for a couple of hours of physical therapy, but now much of it is on his own. He knows what to do — a warm-up treadmill walk, then pacing around a 20-yard indoor track followed by abdominal work and other strengthening exercises.
Since his last visit home on Easter, he and Garrison have become engaged. He’s also worked to bring awareness to the struggles of other wounded warriors through charity work.
About two weeks ago, he started an internship on Capitol Hill with the House Committee on Veterans Affairs. It’s mostly making phone calls and helping with busywork, but if a long-term job comes through, he could be involved in advising congressional staffers on how to improve veteran care and answer his fellow service members’ needs.
On his robotic legs nearly 12 hours each day, Joey still has pain and fatigue, but he’s a long way from just a few months ago when more than an hour on the legs wearied him back to the wheelchair.
Back home in Dawnville, work still is going on with the promised addition to his parents’ home. Volunteer crews periodically have swooped in on the home his father, Joseph, built to lay foundation and raise walls and rafters for the addition Jones will live in.
It’ll be ready when he comes home for good, just not for this trip.
In the meantime, Jones c now an climb stairs to his old room where gear from his bomb technician days sits stacked, still covered with Afghan dust.
Todd South covers courts, poverty, technology, military and veterans for the Times Free Press. He has worked at the paper since 2008 and previously covered crime and safety in Southeast Tennessee and North Georgia. Todd’s hometown is Dodge City, Kan. He served five years in the U.S. Marine Corps and deployed to Iraq before returning to school for his journalism degree from the University of Georgia. Todd previously worked at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. Contact ...