In this season of Thanksgiving, there's one local family whose optimism shines through, even on the darkest of days. We've told you about U.S. Army Ranger Jason Church. At 23, he's been through more in his years, than most people go through in a lifetime.
Just a few years ago, he was a star football player, then we went into the military. Earlier this year, he lost his legs in Afghanistan. For the first time, we talk to his parents about what they went through.
WEAU's Bob Gallaher has tonight's Assignment 13 Report, "Jason's Story."
After spending more than two months recovering from his injuries at Walter Reed hospital in Maryland, the 2007 Menomonie High School graduate came back to Western Wisconsin earlier this month. Last week, Bob had a chance to spend an evening with Jason and his parents, Barb and David before he went back east to continue his rehab. Jason says he has plenty to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, "The Gift of Life."
Jason Church says, "One of the emotions I felt was like, 'wow' I'm alive because there are so many men including a friend of mine in Afghanistan that have died..."
Jason Church is thankful and fortunate his life was spared, the 23-year old former star football player at Menomonie understands the challenges that have been placed before him, he must learn to walk and run again with the help of prosthetics. His life journey has been altered forever.
Jason says, "It was that realization that this is a scar that will remain with me for the rest of my life, and my life has changed dramatically.."
The Church's are a military family, his father, David a Colonel in the army, has 28 years dedicated to serving his country. Jason's dad knows the risks involved, but admits dealing the pains of war are much more devastating when it's a loved one that is hurt.
Col. David Church says, "No one signs up or joins any branch of the service knowing what price they're going to have to play, you sign up and say I'm willing to do my duty, and I'm willing to sacrifice."
Jason's mother Barb Church adds, "When we walked in, he was covered but he looked great to us because he was there but parts of him were missing, but I didn't care, because he was still my Jason."
While visiting his family and friends back in Menomonie, Jason and his parents spent an evening with their church congregation, his story an inspiration to others about perseverance, his faith giving him the strength to accept that God has a plan for him.
Jason says, "He (God) kept me around on this earth for a reason, not to cry and feel sorry for myself, but to go out and do something for his glory.."
During his visit, Jason was honored for his sacrifice for his country at a UW-La Crosse football game, Church played for the Eagles, graduating back in 2011. At halftime, Jason received his purple heart, presented to him by his father, an emotional and surreal moment for his mom.
Barb says, "My son that's 23-years old is receiving a purple heart for giving something for his country, it was difficult, you hear about it, you never think you'll be there doing that, it's just hard to me, he's always going to be my son and who is young and active and he will be again."
And while Jason and his family will not be home this Thanksgiving, David says the Church family will be counting their blessings that they are still able to gather together.
David says, "When you just about lose someone, it just makes it so real and special when we can be together...."
Bob Gallaher says, "I want to wish Jason and the Church family a Happy Thanksgiving, we will continue to pray for him as Jason recovers from his injuries. Jason told me that he wanted to thank the football communities of Menomonie, Eau Claire, La Crosse, and all of Western Wisconsin for the overwhelming support. Jason hopes someday to be a football coach, I wish him well and best of luck!!!"