SAN ANTONIO, TX - An Army corporal from Nevada County marks his progress with small victories, like the day he moved from a wheelchair to a walker.
Brandon Walden, 20, of Penn Valley, faces perhaps two years of rehabilitation at the Brooke Army Medical Center after being shot four times by a man in an Afghan National Army uniform.
The July 3 insider attack wounded four other U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan's Wardak Province and happened just two days before the end of Walden's deployment.
Insider surprises unarmed soldiers
The afternoon of the attack, Walden and his comrades were relaxed and unarmed in a position of relative safety.
Walden recognized the Afghan walking through the gate with a machine gun from earlier, friendly encounters near the base.
"So he walks in with a gun and I look straight at him. I look him dead in the face like I'm looking at you," Walden recalled during a break from his physical therapy.
"He had a (M249 squad automatic weapon) and a 200-round drum and just starts shooting."
Walden doesn't remember the shots to his chin, right thigh and shin. But the single shot to his left hip dropped him to the ground instantly.
The hip shot shattered Walden's femur before traveling into his lower abdomen, shredding his internal organs.
"I could feel the feces oozing into my body," Walden said, recalling his feeling of helplessness as he watched the assailant preparing to continue the attack.
"We see the guy walking around the truck to finish us off, and I was just praying, like God, I need to get home to my family."
Just then the attack ended as suddenly as it had begun. Walden believes his prayer was answered.
"He didn't shoot all of his ammo." Walden said. "He dropped his weapon and walked away."
An Army spokesman said the shooter escaped and coalition forces continue searching for him.
Walden's mother, Laura Cummins, will never forget the call that came that same day at 1:17 pm Pacific Time from a captain at Ft. Bliss, Texas.
"My first question was, is my son alive?" Cummins said. "And he said yes. He's alive, but he's been shot."
Survival and recovery
After being stabilized at a military hospital in Afghanistan, Walden was flown first to Germany, then to Ft. Sam Houston in San Antonio.
As a member of the Warrior Transition Battalion, Walden will continue his recovery until he eventually receives a medical retirement from the Army.
In the meantime, his mother is making arrangements to move five of her six children from Penn Valley to live in San Antonio until Walden is able to come home.
Walden's hometown fiance, Raina Sedano, is also moving to San Antonio.
Many in Nevada County have followed Walden's progress since the July 3 shooting through extensive coverage in The Union newspaper.
Donations from church and civic groups have helped Cummins stay with her son since his arrival in Texas and a non-profit organization called Operation Homefront has provided a temporary apartment.
"The support has been amazing," Cummins said.
Cummins will be seeking more permanent living arrangements for the family in January and will begin looking for a job in the San Antonio area.
She was last employed as a social worker in Nevada County.
More surgeries to come
Walden still carries dozens of bullet fragments near his groin, which doctors may eventually remove.
He's looking forward to his colostomy being reversed early next year and perhaps a hip replacement after that.
Despite his terrifying ordeal in Afghanistan and the uncertain outlook for his recovery, Walden said he would join the Army again if given the chance.
"I don't regret it because you're serving your country," he said. "It's a big thing."
Those wishing to support Walden and his family during his lengthy recovery are invited to send a contribution to the following address:
Brandon Walden Donation Fund
c/o Wells Fargo Bank
17446 Penn Valley Drive
Penn Valley CA 95946
by George Warren, GWarren@news10.net