Sitting in a small town in southern Afghanistan on Jan. 25, Lance Cpl. Alex Juedes bent down to change a radio channel. When he looked up, the streets had emptied.
“Overseas, that’s a sign when no one’s in the streets,” said Greg Juedes, his father, who also served in the Marine Corps.
Ten seconds later, Alex Juedes was hit with a rocket-propelled grenade.
His first tour in Afghanistan ended abruptly with a flight to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., and a Purple Heart.
He lost most of his right hand with just his index and pinky fingers remaining. His arm was also broken and shrapnel tore through the femoral artery in his leg.
“It’s scary,” Greg Juedes said. “The kid just got his arm blown up.”
Skin was taken from Alex Juedes’ leg to put over his arm and he’s scheduled for another skin graft later this week.
The family credits his fellow Marine, Corpsman Jacob Schlauder, for saving his life by applying a tourniquet to his leg.
Now, Alex Juedes is walking again and his family is hopeful that recovery will continue.
He’ll spend his 21st birthday in a hospital room but Karen Dunlap, his mother, said a small celebration with pizza and cake is planned.
Dunlap said it’s been rough, but her son’s cheerfulness keeps the family optimistic.
“Being here with him and listening to his positive attitude and outlook on everything, it makes us all feel better,” Dunlap said.
Kimberly Sheats, a family friend from Marietta, says the family needs financial support.
His father, who lives in Kennesaw and his mother, of Marietta, are traveling between their Cobb homes and their son’s hospital room in Maryland.
“It’s just stressful being not at home,” Dunlap said. “I miss Marietta and being at home.”
The Marine Corps is footing the bill for three family members to travel to and from Maryland, but Sheats said financial hardships will likely follow his release.
She has created a website for donations. Donations can be made at giveforward.com/alex-juedes-rehab-fund.
“When Alex comes back he’s probably not going to be able to go back to work,” Sheats said.
Sheats called Alex Juedes a “hometown hero.”
“He’s just so humble,” she said. “He doesn’t think of himself as a hero. If I even mention that word he says he’s not a hero and he was just doing his job. He says the heroes are the guys that are back out there.”
Greg Juedes said there is a strong support system from doctors, nurses and other military families at Walter Reed in Maryland and his son is in good spirits.
“The Marine Corp. is real supportive,” Greg Juedes said, adding that his son harbors “no ill will.”
He said the family is proud of his son’s service.
“He did what he was supposed to do,” Greg Juedes said.
Still, he asks that service members who remain overseas not be forgotten.
“We’re coming out of there in 2014, but people are still over there and doing things,” Greg Juedes said.