Looking on the Bright Side

Homer parents receive good news, bad news from Air Force son: Wounded in Afghanistan, he’ll be reunited with his family for Thanksgiving 

When Erin Chambers answered the phone at 6 a.m. Nov. 16, she wasn’t surprised to hear her husband Josh’s voice. The telephone is an important link between Erin, a second-grade teacher at a private school in Seattle, and Josh, a 2000 Homer High graduate deployed with the U.S. Air Force in Afghanistan.

This call was different, however.

“He asked if I could get on Skype,” said Erin of a computer program that allows the couple to see each other while talking. “So I got on Skype and he said he had good news and bad news.”

The good news: Josh was coming home.

The bad news: He had been shot in the leg.

“It was pretty amazing timing that he would be able to be home for the holidays, but I was pretty upset and kind of in shock with all that information, that he was coming home and that he was hurt,” said Erin of the mix of emotions she felt at receiving Josh’s news.

As she continued to listen, Erin also prioritized what she needed to do before her husband’s arrival. Following their June 29 wedding, Josh and Erin had lived in Seattle, near the school where Erin taught. 

However, she recently found a new place for them halfway between her work location and Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Tacoma, where Josh was stationed prior to his deployment.

“I had to scramble and move us in really fast so he could have a home to come back to,” said Erin. “He’s never seen it. So, I began unpacking as fast as I could.”

Kevin and Nancy Chambers of Homer, Josh’s parents, had a similar phone call from their son.

“He called us and said he had good news and bad news, which did we want first,” said Nancy Chambers. “The bad news was that he’d been shot. The good news was that he was coming home.”

In the Air Force for five years, Josh Chambers is a combat controller with Air Force Special Operations. According to information provided by the Air Force, combat controllers are FAA-certified air traffic controllers that operate in remote and sometimes hostile areas, directing traffic and alerting pilots and command locations of hostile forces on the ground. 

While in the Air Force, Josh has been stationed in Florida, Texas and Joint Base Lewis-McChord. His deployment to Afghanistan was supposed to be for six months.

“We were on a mission and got ambushed from all different sides,” Josh told the Homer News from his hospital bed at Lewis-McChord. “I was in the back of a truck, running a gun and I got shot in the leg with a gun the Afghans have, a real powerful machine gun, a PKM. Another guy from my group was hit in the elbow and one got hit in the hand.”

Originally designed in the Soviet Union, this model machine gun is used by infantry on the front lines of battle and also mounted on vehicles.

Josh was struck just below the knee.

“It blew a chunk about the size of a baseball out of my hamstrings,” he said.

Under attack, Josh and those with him tried to drive to the closest air base, “and then we got air support and started cleaning up on the bad guys.”

He spent a couple of days at the nearest air base in Afghanistan before being flown to Germany and finally to Lewis-McChord, where he was operated on Nov. 22.

“They determined that I broke the femur and the tibia,” he said of damage to his leg bones. There also was nerve damage, but “not too bad and they were able to close the wound without a skin graft.”

Recovery is expected to take 12-18 months, with a full recovery “very possible,” said Josh.

This isn’t the first time Josh has been injured. There was an assortment of injuries while playing Mariner football and during basic training his bicep was cut in half in a parachute accident.

“That took awhile to recover from,” said his mom, Nancy. “He got 90 percent of his strength back from that one.”

This isn’t the first time she’s received news of her son’s injuries, but this one “is still the hardest, though, because your brain goes to how it could have been,” she said.

Saturday, Josh was released from the hospital to go home and heal.

This has been an action-packed first year of marriage for Josh and Erin. They became engaged in February, married in June and he left for Afghanistan in July.

“We’re only five months in. I hope the rest of the time is a little calmer,” said Erin, laughing.

It’s also has been a year during which Erin has been introduced to the support offered to families by the military.

“His whole squadron has been so amazingly helpful,” she said. “They helped me move all our stuff out of storage and have been calling and texting, making sure we had everything we need. It’s been a really great introduction to the military for me. We got married and he left right away, so I’ve seen a lot of how they support each other. It’s amazing.”

On Friday, Kevin and Nancy Chambers will leave Homer for a visit with their son and daughter-in-law. 

“We’d already planned a trip and were going to take Erin to a Seahawks game,” said Nancy. “Josh says he wants to go, too. … He’ll be on crutches, but he’s kind of determined.”

When it comes to balancing good news and bad news in the Chambers family, clearly the good is winning.

“It will be great to see him,” said his mom, Nancy.

Glad to have her husband home safe and sound, Erin said, “It’s been an ordeal, but we’re mostly just really grateful and appreciate everybody for their support and prayers.  I’m so relieved that he’s back and he’s OK.”

Josh summed up his feelings in one short sentence.

“I’m just happy to be home,” he said. 

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.