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NEWS | March 14, 2014

Purple Heart recipient not alone on road to recovery

By Washington National Guard Public Affairs Office

WHITEFISH, Mont. - It's a cold winter's day in the hills of Whitefish, Montana – and Staff Sgt. Kenneth Walker is led on a snowshoeing trip in Glacier National Park.

The quiet, peaceful outing is a stark contrast to the event that led to this excursion.

On July 3rd, 2011, while serving with the Washington Air National Guard's 116th Air Support Operations Squadron near the Abdibay Village, Parwan Province, Afghanistan, Walker was with a fellow Airman when insurgents attacked.

"Two enemy grenades hit the ground right next to us. I jumped on [my partner] and covered him from the explosion and we got hit by the grenades," Walker said.

While Walker protected his partner, he suffered several severe injuries, including blown ear drums, shrapnel in his right knee, bruised brain stems and spinal cord damage. The injuries are too many to count.

"I look at my wife to pick out certain injuries in case I forget some," Walker says, referring to his wife, Sarissa.

For his heroism, Walker received a Purple Heart — and a lengthy medical recovery.

Over the last year, Walker has been healing and rehabilitating in San Antonio, Texas.

Though far from friends and family, he's far from alone on his journey back to good health

Steve Shea is a West Point Military Academy graduate who now volunteers with Team Red, White and Blue, a non-profit organization that enriches the lives of America's veterans by connecting them to their community through physical and social activity.

Team RWB works closely with the Whitefish Wounded Warriors Support Program (WWWSP) to bring wounded warriors to Whitefish during the Winter Carnival week to provide a unique opportunity to get away, build relationships, and gain confidence in their physical abilities.

"The [United States Special Operations Command's] Care Coalition put Kenny and his family in for this trip and we invited them to the resort," Shea said.

"Everyone was clapping when they announced we were on the plane and where we were going," Walker said. "[Steve] handed me a schedule for the next five days and we headed into town."

Through the WWWSP, injured service members are given the chance to gain confidence in their abilities and readjust to their bodies. For Walker, it was a chance to relax, spend time with his family, and feel appreciated by those he has served.

"People wanted me to sign a flag. People I had never met just wanted to say thank you," Walker said. "It was pretty cool."

The five-day trip included tours of the mountain by grooming tractor, ski trips, snowshoe outings, snowmobile tours and much more. "[Team] Red, White and Blue provided us instructors," Walker said. "They cover everything and took care of us."

Walker knows he'll need additional care as he continues on the road to recovery. In the meantime, that fateful July day will never be forgotten. And his recent trip to Montana — along with the support and generosity he and his family have received — will remain a lifelong memory.