published Monday, July 30th, 2012

Ringgold High graduate loses legs in Afghanistan

Army Spc. Jason Smith, 27, was wounded on July 25 after he stepped on an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan. He had both legs amputated and fractured both hands. (Contributed photo courtesy of Shannon Rominger)
Army Spc. Jason Smith, 27, was wounded on July 25 after he stepped on an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan. He had both legs amputated and fractured both hands. (Contributed photo courtesy of Shannon Rominger)
Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

United States Army Spc. Jason Smith hasn't lost his sense of humor.

Smith, a 2004 Ringgold High School graduate, was injured severely Thursday when he stepped on an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan, losing both his legs and fracturing both hands. But he's still cracking jokes.

"The first thing he said to my dad was, 'Dad, I'm OK, but I lost a few pounds,'" said Shannon Rominger, Smith's sister. "I talked to his commanding officer, and the first thing he said was about how Jason was always joking."

Rominger said their father, Larry Smith, was the first to receive the news about Smith's injury.

"The first thing, when my dad said Jason was injured, the first thing I asked was, 'Is he alive?'" Rominger said. "After I heard that he was — I don't know if it really sunk in until later. I was worried until I talked to him yesterday. I'm still worried, but I know everyone's going to be there for him."

Smith's sister-in-law Margaret Smith, who lives in Oakley, Calif., called him "a comic and a fun-loving guy."

"I love that he brought his light to his unit," Margaret Smith said. "The members that I've been able to talk to, all they say is how he brought up morale."

Smith is expected to be taken to Brooks Army Medical Center in San Antonio in the next few days to continue his recovery. His family -- including Rominger, their father and Margaret Smith and her husband, Daniel — plan to visit Smith in Texas as he recovers. Rominger said Smith cannot wait to be back with his family.

Joining the military was the last thing Smith's family thought he would do. Now 27, he spent months researching before deciding to join the Army about three years ago, his sister said.

"He never wanted a desk job," Rominger said. "He always wanted to be outside. He eventually wanted to be a police officer."

Smith was deployed to Korea before leaving for Afghanistan in March.

His sister said friends have reached out to Smith's family to offer support.

"People that we haven't talked to in years have called to ask if they can write letters to him in the hospital," Rominger said, adding that many veterans have spoken with the family to offer support and advice for Smith as he begins his road to recovery.

McCracken Poston, an attorney in Ringgold, Ga., said he contacted former U.S. Sen. Max Cleland, a triple amputee and Vietnam veteran, about Smith's condition. Cleland plans to share his own experience as an amputee with Smith and offer support, according to Poston.

Marine Sgt. Joey Jones, of Dawnville, Ga., lost both his legs in an incident similar to Smith's in 2010. Jones had seen enough of his friends and colleagues lose their legs that he was prepared for what to expect from his recovery. He offered some advice to Smith.

"The first and foremost thing is to establish little goals, and focus on the things you can change," he said. "You can't change the fact you've lost your legs. What you can change is you can get up out of the wheelchair. What you can change is how you do things."

Little goals include not using a bedpan, standing up, walking and eventually running, Jones said.

"You'll surprise yourself daily with what you can and can't do," he said.

Margaret Smith said she hoped to speak to her brother-in-law soon and let him know his family is happy to have him alive.

"He's grown-up. I'm in awe and very proud of him," Margaret Smith said. "He does these courageous things, and he does them without hesitation. I'm very thankful for all of the support we have gotten during this time."

about Rachel Bunn...

Rachel Bunn is originally from Ellijay, Ga., and graduated from the University of Georgia with degrees in magazines and history. While at UGA, she wrote for the student magazine UGAzine, served as news editor for the student newspaper, The Red & Black, and spent a semester studying British history at Oxford University in Oxford, England. She has previously worked at The Rockdale Citizen in Conyers, Ga., and The Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the ...

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