By the time James Alford of Karnack was three years old, he knew he wanted to become a Green Beret. At 20 he had accomplished that, even receiving a bronze star.
But then his behavior began to change. This week James turned 25. He is a totally different man than he was just a year ago.
Staff Sergeant James Alford's family calls him Jamie. They spend a lot of their time remembering who their son was before he went to war. "Jamie was always real athletic. He loved to ride horses, loved to compete. He played football in high school and track in high school," says his mother, Gail.
Through his love for horses as a child Jamie met a young girl who competed against him in barrel racing. "I thought he was arrogant and cocky and I didn't like him at all. But he was very nice looking," says his wife Amber. As the two got older a romance blossomed and soon the couple married.
Jamie was in the special forces and was sent to the middle east but the army reported he began acting irrationally, forgetting things, he had a quick temper. When he allegedly stole a fellow soldier's protective mask, the army sent him home. "They sent him home to be court-martialed and have his Green Beret tab removed and discharge him from the service for bad conduct," says his dad John.
That was in April. Immediately the Alford's went to Jamie's base in Tennessee. What they found was not a soldier defying the army but a young man who was gravely ill. "He greeted us, he knew us but he was real awkward in his stance. He trembled. Some of his sentences he could not complete without help," says John.
Within days Jamie was diagnosed with a fatal degenerative brain disease called New Variant CJD. Much like the mad cow disease, a victim may contract the illness by eating a contaminated animal. His family believes it happened when Jamie ate the brains of a sheep while serving in Oman.
"He did sit down and asked me if he was dying. That was very difficult for me. I lied to him. I don't need to get in that area," says John.
But the strength of a father is matched by the anguish of a mother. "When they put the feeding tube in doctors told me then that I would be lucky to have my child at Christmas. So every day is a gift," says Gail.
After several months the army acknowledged Jamie's illness and reinstated his rank. But his family says they're still fighting to get his belongings back and a formal apology. But perhaps the biggest battle they're fighting now is to keep his medical benefits. "I don't want them to retire him medically because once they do that he loses 100% benefit medically. He will only have 80% coverage," says Gail.
Jamie is now confined to this hospital bed inside his parent's home. He cannot speak, or eat or walk. His family says, though the army refuses to apologize, they now know their son can die with is honor in tact. " He didn't take a bullet but he's given his life for his country," says Gail.
The disease Sgt. James Alford suffers from is extremely rare. He will slowly lose all of his ability to function until he dies. Major Gowan of the special forces has told the family the army is trying to do the right thing but says a formal apology may take a long time.