Jason Padgett, who lived with his grandparents and mother for a time in Marietta, got a big hug and a warm welcome home by his friends and family Saturday night at Rocco’s Pub on Roswell Road near Powers Ferry Road in Marietta.
After serving in the Army in Afghanistan for about one year, Padgett, a Private First Class in the Army, brought home a present for his family — a Purple Heart.
Padgett, 23, was first deployed to Afghanistan in July 2013, and he was on leave this month after surviving an explosion while on duty at the Kandahar International Airport in Afghanistan. The explosion was set off by a suicide bomber, he said.
When he was recovering from his injuries, he found out he had received the Purple Heart, as well as the Combat Action Badge, the Army Achievement Medal and the Army Accommodation Medal.
Although he was proud of the recognition, Padgett said no one pines after the Purple Heart.
“It’s one of those awards that, as a soldier, you really don’t want,” Padgett said. “But, if we get it, we’re proud.”
The Purple Heart denotes bravery to an outsider, but for soldiers, Padgett said, “It means the enemy got you.”
Padgett’s family realizes what he had to go through and knows it’s reason for celebration, said Marilyn Watson, Padgett’s grandmother.
“I’m really proud of him, and he had a really rough time,” Watson said. “I’m proud of him for what he accomplished.”
Watson, who has lived in Marietta for 40 years and works in payroll at Tip Top Poultry off North Marietta Parkway, said she watched Padgett grow up.
Padgett attended J.J. Daniell Middle School in Marietta, and left for the military after graduating high school from LaFayette High School in Walker County in 2010.
“That’s all he ever talked about was, ‘I want to go into the Army,’” Watson said.
Seeing him home, his mother, Jennifer Pruitt of Acworth, said she was proud of him. She said she was almost in tears as she watched Padgett hug friends and family at the party.
“I’m just so grateful that the community came together for him,” Pruitt said.
At the party, friends and family gathered to celebrate Padgett’s accomplishments.
Regina Chapman, a retiree who has lived in Marietta her whole life, has known Padgett since he was 10 years old.
“He was a sweet boy. He always was,” Chapman said. “He was one of those people — he has a tender heart.”
Chapman’s husband, Lyle Chapman, manager of Mink’s Package Store on Delk Road, said he is proud Padgett is a member of the Sons of the American Legion. Lyle Chapman is the commander of quadrant 29 in Marietta.
“As (the Sons of American Legion) has grown, he’s grown with us,” Lyle Chapman said.
Padgett said he is thankful for the support of his family and friends.
“It makes me feel a little bit wanted,” he said about the party. “It shows that my family’s proud.”
Padgett was cleaning up construction around the Afghanistan airport on Thanksgiving day last year when the bomb went off.
“I was walking to one of the trucks to get trash bags, and I was messing around with my buddies. Then, a loud explosion happened. The next thing I know, I blacked out and immediately felt pain in my left leg,” Padgett said.
He said nobody died in the attack.
The explosion launched a metal ball, 8 millimeters in diameter, through his left leg above his knee and another near his hip, hitting his femoral artery.
After spending more than a month in hospitals overseas, Padgett was allowed to return home on Father’s Day.
Padgett said he still walks with a limp sometimes, but his mobility is good. He also suffered a bad concussion from the blast and the effects still linger, as he often has trouble remembering things.
“It’ll be like, I’ll go to Wal-Mart, and then the next day, I’ll remember I went to Wal-Mart, but I don’t remember what I did when I was there,” he said.
Padgett also has to go through physical therapy sessions for his leg, back and neck pain. He has trouble sleeping, so he visits doctors to try to prevent post-traumatic stress disorder.
Despite these hardships and bad memories, Padgett said his family has helped him move forward.
“Everybody was pretty normal about it. Nobody asks me what happened,” he said. “I try to make light of everything that happened. I try not to let it upset me.”
On July 6, Padgett will head back to Germany to finish out his three-year contract with the Army. He said he will be placed in a warrior transition unit while there so he can heal.