By Brandi Ball, NewsOn6.com
CLEVELAND, Oklahoma -- A wounded warrior is finally getting her hero's welcome.
U.S. Army Specialist Ashley Jones, 19, will return to Cleveland, Okla., on Saturday morning to streets lined with cheering, flag-waving supporters.
Jones, who served the Oklahoma National Guard's 45th Infantry Brigade in Afghanistan, was in a convoy on December 18, 2011, when it was hit by an improvised explosive device.
She broke her back and pelvis, and her right leg was amputated at the knee. Since the blast occurred, Jones has been the recipient of the Purple Heart and busy rehabilitating in military hospitals -- first in Germany, then in San Antonio, Texas.
On Saturday at 10 a.m., about 60 bikers from the Patriot Guard, the high school band and military veterans will usher Jones home in a parade that will crawl along Broadway Street from Caddo to Pawnee Streets in Cleveland. It will end at city hall, where mayor Ron Shipman has prepared a proclamation to declare March 17, 2012 as "Ashley Jones Day."
Buildings along the route are planning to display signs in support, and one of the oldest Cleveland businesses, Palace Drug, has donated nearly 1,000 handheld U.S. flags for parade-watchers to wave.
Encouragement for Jones doesn't seem hard to find around Cleveland.
"We're a town of 3,200 and for one of [our soldiers] to go down and be injured, it does hit the town hard," Shipman, who was also Jones' former high school math teacher, told News On 6 in December.
The last time Cleveland staged a parade in someone's honor, it was almost 26 years ago to the day. In March 1991, the city honored USMC Maj. Craig Berryman, whose aircraft was shot down outside Kuwait City during Operation Desert Storm. Berryman, a Cleveland native, was captured and held as an Iraqi prisoner of war from January 28, 1991-March 5, 1991.
"We are a pretty close-knit community," Shipman said on Thursday. "Small towns have a special place in the hearts of soldiers. It helps them to know that people are behind them, supporting them and respecting their service and bravery."
Jones' colleagues speak highly of her commitment to the military.
Army Recruiting & Retention NCO Sergeant Lesley Thompson, also a Cleveland High School graduate, said Jones, "was always seeking a challenge, rather than running from it or avoiding responsibility. She's always maintained a positive outlook, and I really respect that about her. It's not a surprise to me that she was a real warrior on this deployment."
Shipman has kept in contact with Jones' father, who told him that despite her trials, the soldier is in good spirits. Jones joined the military as a 17-year-old hoping to aid college costs, and she was deployed after her first semester. She is now having to learn to walk again because of her war injuries.
"She was such a great athlete in high school," Shipman said. "I think that has helped her in adapting to the changes in her life and using a prosthesis."
Cleveland has established the "Ashley Jones Fund" at American Heritage Bank to supplement Jones in her recovery. If you would like to donate, please call the bank at 918-358-2535.
On March 31 at 7 p.m., Cleveland High alumni will also be hosting a full-pads football game against Hominy alumni, in an encore performance of the longest-standing traditional high school football rivalry in the state of Oklahoma. Partial admissions proceeds and all of the concessions money will go to the Ashley Jones Fund.
Thompson said that as a recruiter, she constantly worries about her soldiers, and when she heard about Jones' injury, she became very emotional.
The outpouring Jones is receiving from the Army, family, friends and her hometown are essential to living an optimistic life, Thompson said.
"The support and encouragement from community is of huge importance to these folks as they transition back to civilian life, especially those who have experienced extremes such as SPC Jones," Thompson said. "Always, always remain positive, encouraging and supportive toward them."