Homer graduate receives Purple Heart, Bronze Star

In November 2013, Josh Chambers was wounded in action while serving in the U.S. Air Force in Afghanistan. For the injuries he sustained in that attack, Chambers, a 2000 Homer High School graduate who is stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, Wash., has received the Purple Heart. For his actions that day, he will be awarded the Bronze Star of Valor.

As a combat controller with the Air Force Special Operations, Chambers served in Florida, Texas and at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, before being deployed in 2013 to Afghanistan.

He was traveling in a three-vehicle convoy in the mountains of eastern Afghanistan in November when the convoy was ambushed. 

“I was in the back of a truck, running a gun, and they shot at us,” Chambers told the Homer News. “There were about 40, 50 of them. They had RPGs, PKMs, mortars. They were pretty well armed.”

RPGs are shoulder-fired, rocket-propelled grenades. PKMs are machine guns originally designed in the Soviet Union and used by infantry on the front lines or can be mounted on vehicles. 

The attack came from three sides and Chambers, who was kneeling in the back of a truck, was struck. 

“I took a PKM round through my knee … I was kind of on my knees and it made a big hole out the back of my hamstrings,” said Chambers, who was not the only one injured in the attack.

He and those with him managed to fight their way to high ground and a position that gave them fire superiority.

“And then we had airplanes, so we were good,” he said of the air coverage they received.

Chambers spent a couple of days at the nearest air base in Afghanistan before being flown to Germany and finally arrived at Joint Base Lewis-McChord on Nov. 22, in time for Thanksgiving.

“I had pretty severe nerve damage. Light bone damage, light vascular damage, but quite a bit of nerve damage, so I lost most of the function of my lower leg,” said Chambers. “I’m starting to slightly regain it now.”

Whether or not he will have a full recovery is yet to be seen.

“Hopefully it will come back. We’ll see. It’s a slow process,” he said.

For now, Chambers wears a heavy, carbon fiber APO (ankle foot orthotic) to help him walk and continues with rehab.

In March, he received a Purple Heart, a U.S. military medal awarded to those wounded or killed while serving. He has received the Bronze Star of Valor, a medal recognizing Chambers’ acts of heroism, but it “hasn’t been officially awarded yet,” he said. “We haven’t had the medal ceremony.”

Recently, Chambers flew to Alaska to visit with his parents Kevin and Nancy Chambers of Anchor Point. It was the first trip back to the Kenai Peninsula since his injury. 

“He said something how this felt like his homecoming because when he got back home (in November), he was really drugged,” said Nancy Chambers, pleased with the progress her son’s healing has made. “I hadn’t seen him since he was able to walk.”

Chambers attended Chapman School in Anchor Point through the eighth grade and played football for the Mariners while he was a student at Homer High School. He entered the U.S. Air Force in 2008, and is a senior airman with a promotion to staff sergeant coming in the near future. His father Kevin also served in the Air Force, and his maternal grandfather Charles Higgins served in the Army Air Corps.

The visit home offered time to relax and reconnect with family, friends and familiar activities.

“I’ve slept, relaxed, gone fishing a couple of times with my dad and brother, had a barbecue and just really kind of chilled out,” he said.

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com.