July 4, 2011— -- Before U.S. Marine Sgt. Jonny Joseph "Joey" Jones had to relearn how to walk after he lost his legs, before he became a source of comfort for wounded soldiers, and before he shared a dinner table with President Barack Obama, he held one of the most dangerous jobs in one of the most violent places on earth.
Flashback to April 2010, when Jones, then 23, was serving in Helmand Province in Afghanistan, the opium capital of the world and the financial base of the Taliban. It is one of the deadliest provinces for U.S. troops, and Jones's job was to disable and dispose of bombs.
"It's one thing to be a Marine or a service member. It's a big deal. You are really doing a lot for your country," he told ABC News at the time, as we accompanied him on patrol. "But as an EOD [explosive ordinance disposal] tech, I just saw an opportunity to do a little bit more."
One day, a tip came in to Jones's base from a local Afghan, who said that an unexploded roadside bomb had been found a few miles south. After walking through poppy fields, Jones and his team member prepared for the task at hand. Our team came along to watch.
"A good day is us being bored and training Marines how to find IEDs [improvised explosive devices]," Jones said. "A bad day is, you know, coming out there and doing our job and something goes wrong."
As spring faded into summer, Jones updated our team with Facebook messages, writing that the fighting in the area had ratcheted up.
But the dangers didn't stop him from loving his job. When asked if he had any plans to retire soon, he told us, "I'm just getting started. Just getting started."
Fate would have it differently. On Aug. 6, he and his partner were sent to clear a bazaar to protect Afghan civilians. After defusing 40 bombs in just five days, Jones accidentally stepped on a pressure plate, the trigger to setting off a massive explosion.
His mother, Joyce Jones, was at home in Dalton, Ga., when officers came to the house to tell her the news.
"They wouldn't even tell me if he was alive," she said. "They told me he had lost both of his legs, one below the knee and one above. They had to do an amputation. And they told me one of his arms was broken. That's all they told me."
When Jones regained consciousness, he said, he was at the Landstuhl hospital in Germany."Everything was bandaged. I had tubes coming out everywhere and, you know, it wasn't the best day of my life."
Corporal Daniel Greer, an engineer whose task was to sweep metal detectors over the ground before Marines go into an area, was with Jones when the bomb went off. He did not survive.
"[Greer is] kind of like the first guy there, very brave job and one he was very proud of," Jones said. "He suffered traumatic brain injury and lost his life because of it."
Jones was moved to Bethesda Naval Medical Center, in Bethesda, Md., where he said the physical pain really set in.
"Once they took me off the heavy pain meds from Germany, that was a horrible time," he said."I don't even know how to explain it to you. That was just mentally, psychologically traumatic."
He added that the so-called phantom pains in his extremities that were no longer there were often unbearable, and could get so horrible that they would be even worse than the pain from his real wounds.
Sgt. Jones Learns How to Walk Again
"Sometimes it felt like someone was twisting my foot around to where it was trying to pop off," Jones said. "A lot of the times it would be my toes, someone was crunching my toes, or my toes were being crunched up, like put through a grinder or something."
Two weeks after arriving at Bethesda, Jones was finally able to get out of his hospital room and begin physical therapy, which was exhausting physically and mentally. His family and devoted girlfriend, Meg Garrison, 24, stayed with him, and his fellow Marines dropped by almost daily.
"As long as Joey needs me here, I'm going to be here," Garrison said. "There's nothing that can make me leave here, unless he told me to go."
"I have security issues, you know," Jones jokes. "I'm always afraid she is going to leave me for a legged guy."
While trying to keep his sense of humor, Jones also had his bad days. He would get frustrated, upset and often had nightmares.
"You know, the other day someone asked how I was feeling and I told 'em "Yeah, I'm doing good, hanging in there," he said. "And after they walked away, I thought, 'You know, I should have just said, You know, I don't know, how do you think I'm feeling? I don't have legs, I can't put my underwear on, how do you think I feel? It's not O.K., it's not gonna be O.K.'"
Six weeks later, Jones was moved to Walter Reed Medical Center, in Washington, D.C., where he was fitted for his first pair of "shorties" -- short prosthetics designed to help amputees regain upper body balance. By this point, he has undergone more than 20 surgeries, and it will still be months before he is allowed to return home to Georgia.
But not long after being fitted for his prosthetics, Jones has a major breakthrough and takes his first tentative steps.