A severely wounded U.S. Army soldier received a very patriotic welcome Monday at Moffett Field.
One of three soldiers struck by a roadside bomb as they rode in a Humvee on Aug. 7 in Afghanistan, Sgt. Brian Christopher Jergens, 22, will continue his recovery at the poly-traumatic rehabilitation center at the U.S. Veterans Administration Hospital in Palo Alto.
He has an almost-two-year road to recovery ahead, according to James Brown, a ride captain with the local Patriot Guard Riders (PGR), a national group of men and women who ride their motorcycles to events honoring soldiers and their families.
Jergens suffered injuries to his legs and lost his left ring finger and his spleen. He has a lot of abdominal injuries. Both his arms were fractured, as was his vertebra and skull. He was nearly decapitated. As a result, he’s unable to speak and can hardly move.
“He’s lucky to be alive,” Brown said. He told the PGR to cheer loudly so Jergens could hear the support.
When invited by a family member, PGR groups across the country attend welcome-back events like this one for Jergens. They also pay their respects at funerals for veterans. PGR has about 500 riders in Northern California, and about two dozen managed to make it out to this "mission" at Moffett Field.
“I’m a veteran, and we didn’t have this; we were treated the opposite,” said Dennis Panak, 65, also a PGR ride captain. The Scotts Valley resident served in Vietnam with the U.S. Army in 1965-66. He rides on five to 10 missions every week. “We want to make sure our brothers and sisters are treated with respect and honor.”
Also waiting with PGR were the South Bay Blue Star Moms, who have or have had children serve in the military. They send emails to one another when soldiers return home from Iraq or Afghanistan and show up to support the family.
"We've been here [at Moffett Field] before for soldiers killed in action," said Pat Giordana, whose son and daughter both served in Afghanistan. "We are happy to be here under different circumstances."
Though his flight was delayed twice because of complications with blood clots, Jergens arrived safely at 6:30 p.m. Monday.
Jergens' newlywed wife, Jennifer, traveled with him from Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, TX, where he had been transferred on Aug. 13 from an Army hospital in Germany. The brave 18-year-old has kept everyone updated on a blog she started the day after the incident. There's also a Facebook group called "Praying for our hero, Brian Jergens," principally administer by his mother, Marilyn Horton-Jergens.
"You guys made us feel special," Jennifer said, visibly emotional to everyone who helped escort the American Medical Response ambulance from Mountain View to Palo Alto. The couple married last December. "We really appreciate it."
With Jergens now in the South Bay, Jennifer—who's from the city of Santa Clara—can count on the support of the local organizations.
"We want service member to know that they are not alone," said Roland Garza, 50, who served as a combat medic in Beirut, Granada, Panama and South America, and is now a chaplain. "We are always doing missions. When I'm not riding, I'm at the hospital."
Jennifer's blogposts reveal that while improving, Jergens' condition remains serious. Her family continues to ask for everyone's prayers.
"Thank you so much for being here," said Jennifer's mother, Natalie Afflerback. "It means so much, more than words can express. God bless everyone."