Community plans hero’s welcome for returning vet
Nothing short of miraculous.
That’s how Jeremy Young’s family describes the progress the Army Pfc. has made since he suffered 12 gunshot wounds while serving in Afghanistan last summer.
From lying in the dirt with tourniquets wrapped around both arms and both legs and later passing out from blood loss to endless weeks of rehabilitation and fighting through brutal pain to heal his ravaged body, to say that the 23-year-old from Archdale has, medically speaking, defied the odds would be an understatement.
“It is miraculous — way better than what we expected,” Young’s mother, Sherry Akines, said of his recovery. “I just attribute that to everybody’s prayers, and I just have faith that it’s going to continue to get better, that he’ll lead a halfway normal life.”
Young’s community will honor him for his service and sacrifice with a hero’s welcome this weekend.
A homecoming parade and ceremony is planned for Saturday. The event was organized by Deborah Smith of Trinity, who quickly pulled together the logistics for a patriotic tribute as soon as she found out that Smith would be coming home from Fort Sam Houston in Texas, where had been undergoing outpatient treatment.
“He’s such an inspiration for our community because of the fact that he has maintained such a positive position,” said Smith. “He’s very strong-willed and has a lot of determination.”
Ambushed by a supposed ally
Young, a 2008 Trinity High School graduate, was deployed to Afghanistan in October 2011, part of the U.S. Army Infantry, 3rd Brigade, 1st Armored Division.
As part of Operation Enduring Freedom, Young and his fellow soldiers worked to clear Taliban and other insurgents from Afghan cities and villages and helped train that country’s military.
On July 3, 2012, Young and the rest of his platoon was stopped for the night at a compound next to an Afghan Army site. Soldiers from both camps knew and interacted with each other, Young recalled — the Americans sharing their vegetarian MREs with the Afghans, who would bring them bread.
Young was killing time before starting a guard shift at the compound when he encountered an Afghan soldier armed with a U.S.-supplied M249 Squad Automatic Weapon, or SAW, walking toward a spot in the compound where several Americans were “with no kits, no weapons. They were just smoking, eating, relaxing,” Young recalled.
“I just happened to come around the corner and I met him. We were about five feet away. We locked eyes. I knew instantly that something wasn’t right. He yelled something and he just held down the trigger. He had the same weapon I had,” Young said. “He had a 200-round drum on it. I felt it when I got hit. I fell to the ground, and then he starts shooting at me while I’m on the ground.”
Young was wearing a plate carrier body armor vest and a helmet. He wasn’t holding his rifle in his hands because he wasn’t on patrol at the time.
“He was holding his kind of like ‘Rambo’ does: He was holding it with two hands at his hips,” he remembered. “Nobody knew what was going on. I started yelling, and then he starts spraying the compound, and he keeps spraying it and spraying it.”
Young recalled the platoon’s medic yelling for him to crawl up to him, but he couldn’t feel his arms or legs. Eventually, his attacker saw him lying still. He threw his weapon down and ran.
“Green on blue”
Young said his plate carrier stopped at least three rounds, but he was still hit all over his body: both arms, right chest, both sides of his back, both legs and a superficial head wound.
He had a large hole in his back from which he was bleeding profusely. His platoon mates packed his wounds and carried him to a helicopter that air-lifted him to a nearby base.
“I told them I couldn’t take the pain, and I was asking them to give me something to knock me out. That’s when I passed out from the blood loss,” he said. “The next thing I remember, I woke up in Texas.”
Weeks had gone by. Young had been transferred to Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan, then to Germany and finally to the Veteran’s Affairs hospital in San Antonio.
He had survived a hail of bullets fired at him from point blank range. Four others were wounded and survived. The attack likely would have been much worse had Young not shown up when he did.
He and his fellow soldiers were victims of a “green-on-blue” or “insider” attack — terms given for assaults on NATO military members by rogue Afghan security forces.
“I had seen (the attacker) before. He had come over every night and learned where most of us would be, and that’s where he was heading. He was going to kill about nine of us if I wouldn’t have come around that corner,” said Young. “The compound was secure. The reason he got in was because he was an Afghan Army soldier. He was in uniform.”
Young never got a clear answer on what happened to his attacker.
He heard from one source that Special Forces killed him, while another person told him the attacker fled to Pakistan before an air assault mission that had been set up was deployed.
“I kind of hope they got him, but if they didn’t, somebody will eventually,” he said.
More than 30 insider attacks have occurred since 2007 — half of them in the last eight months, he said.
“I personally think it’s because we’re pulling out of Afghanistan,” Young said. “My personal belief is, they’re doing that because they know when we leave, they’re going to get their butts kicked by the Taliban. The Afghan Army — we trained them as much as we could, but if they didn’t want to listen and learn how to fight the Taliban, there was nothing we could do about it. I personally believe that some of the guys are doing it because they want to show, ‘Hey, I’m not with the Americans. Look at me, I shot at them. I killed them.’”
He said he thinks Taliban kidnappings and threats to kill the relatives of Afghan soldiers unless they turn their guns on NATO troops are also behind the attacks.
While he was recovering at Bagram, Sen. John McCain pinned a Purple Heart on him that he had earned. Young was unconscious at the time but heard about it later from his superiors.
A long recovery
Young remembers not being able to get out of his hospital bed for weeks at a time because his wounds were so severe.
Most of the nerves in his right hand were destroyed, and, at one point, he and his doctors considered amputating it because he couldn’t move it at all. Young, who was right-handed, eventually regained some movement in his fingers, but has no muscle control or strength in it yet, so he has had to learn to use his left hand for virtually everything.
He has no feeling in his right foot or ankle, but can walk with a brace. A new device that is being made for him that should enable him to walk very well and possibly even run will be ready for him in a couple months.
He still has an open wound in one of the incisions from surgery he had to replace a tendon in his left arm in December. It likely will require surgery when he returns to Fort Bragg next month.
“Everything else has healed up, and he’s doing very well,” said Akines. “He’s almost to the point where he needs no assistance.”
Young said he plans to be medically discharged from the Army.
“If I can’t be an infantryman, there’s not another job like that,” he said. “I’m just going to get out and do stuff that I’ve wanted to do, and stuff that I’m really good at.”
He’s thinking about doing volunteer work with children and then maybe going back to school.
Young said he’s had to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder. P.T.S.D., which is common among troops who return from combat, is characterized by intrusive thoughts, sleep loss and hyper-alertness following a horrifying experience.
“It’s not so bad. It’s more or less like, when I don’t expect something to happen or a loud noise that happens out of nowhere — just random stuff — it will make me stop and get my heart rate up and I’ll start breathing hard and heavy, and I’ve just got to be left alone for a little bit, and I’m fine,” he said. “I don’t know if I’m going to have to deal with that for the rest of my life or if it’s something that will go away.”
He spoke with a counselor at the VA hospital in Texas, but said he hasn’t sought treatment beyond that.
“I liked my friends coming to me, talking to me for advice,” he said. “I’ve never been one to ask people for help or talk about my feelings.”
Young said he’s looking forward to his homecoming celebration on Saturday. He hasn’t been back home for more than a year.
More than 100 motorcyclists from the Patriot Guard Riders will escort a procession of 80 to 90 vehicles down N.C. 62.
“I’ve just followed his story, because I appreciate everything the men and women of this country do to sacrifice to serve and protect us,” said Smith. “We are all honored that we can be a part of this patriotic event for the community.”
Saturday’s homecoming parade to honor U.S. Army Pfc. Jeremy Young will begin with a welcome home greeting at Braxton Craven Schoool on N.C. 62 in Trinity at 1:30 p.m. From there, the parade will proceed east on N.C. 62 to Creekside Park in Archdale, where a 2 p.m. welcome home ceremony will commence, including speeches and live music.