During the holiday season, ESA performs its share of charitable activities as a reflection of the association’s values, as well as the values of its staff and membership.
Here’s a recap of ESA’s involvement with giving during the holidays. The purpose isn’t to pat ourselves on the back, but to remind everyone of what’s possible through a little bit of effort, creativity and compassion. It truly is better to give than receive.
Giving back to a special soldier
ESA staff members recently got the opportunity to say thanks to a genuine American hero during a visit from Sgt. First Class John Wayne Walding of the U.S. Army’s 3rdSpecial Forces Group, commonly known as the Green Berets.
Sgt. Walding, his wife Amy, and their 2-year-old daughter Andie came to ESA headquarters on Monday, Dec. 12 to receive a gift of a 46-inch flat-screen TV donated by ESA President Dom D’Ascoli and his company, Smoky Mountain Systems in Franklin, N.C. But that’s only the end of a story that started more than three years earlier.
Sgt. Walding was in Afghanistan on April 6, 2008, as part of a joint U.S. – Afghan raid searching for a key insurgent leader. For nearly seven hours, he and 14 other Special Forces soldiers, as well as about 30 Afghan commandos, were ambushed by approximately 200 insurgents perched more than 1,000 feet above them, armed with heavy machine-guns and rocket-propelled grenades. While exchanging gunfire, Sgt. Walding’s role included calling for repeated airstrikes at positions located dangerously near his position.
As the group began to withdraw after running low on supplies and ammunition, Sgt. Walding was struck below the right knee by a sniper’s bullet. Though he was severely wounded, he tied a tourniquet and continued moving casualties down a steep mountain slope, returning fire along the way to a successful evacuation. He and several members of his team were each awarded the Silver Star, though Sgt. Walding ultimately lost his right leg below the knee.
Fast-forward to a fund-raising event on Veterans’ Day earlier this year in North Carolina for Veterans Airlift Command, a non-profit organization that provides air transportation for medical purposes for wounded service members, veterans and their families. ESA President D’Ascoli overheard a conversation in which Sgt. Walding mentioned that – in the process of moving his family from North Carolina to their new home in the Dallas/Fort Worth area – his big-screen TV had been damaged beyond repair. Even worse, it wasn’t covered by insurance.
D’Ascoli promised the soldier that his TV would be replaced, which led to Sgt. Walding’s visit to ESA to pick up an early Christmas present: a 46-inch Samsung LED TV.
Sgt. Walding is home on leave until the middle of January, when he will return to Fort Bragg. The family, which includes 7-year-old daughter Emma and 6-year-old son Sam, will eventually be reunited when he is discharged, hopefully this spring. At that point, he plans to attend college with the ultimate goal of getting a business degree.
You can click here to read more about his wartime experience in Afghanistan, including a detailed account of the battle.
Wounded Warrior Project
During the holidays, ESA put a special spin on the common practice of sending gifts to prominent members, sponsors, and other friends and supporters of the association. This year, ESA chose instead to make a donation to the Wounded Warrior Project in the name of every individual or company who would normally have received a typical gift. This year, the "gift” came in the form of a card letting the recipient know that a donation had been made by ESA on their behalf.
The Wounded Warrior Project honors and empowers service members who incurred service-connected injuries on or after Sept. 11, 2001. There have been more than 42,000 service people injured during military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Thousands of Wounded Warriors and caregivers receive support each year through WWP programs and services.
To learn more about the Wounded Warrior Project, visit www.woundedwarriorproject.org.
Welcoming the troops home
ESA staff members added another gesture of support for our troops, meeting at Dallas – Fort Worth International Airport on Dec. 19 to welcome home a planeload of soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq. Hundreds of onlookers were present as more than 200 service members made it back to U.S. soil after serving their country.
Sgt. Walding – who knows a thing or two about coming home – says a warm reception for returning heroes makes all the difference in the world.
"Things like that just drive home the fact that this is the best place in the world to live,” he said. "As long as our soldiers realize they’re sacrificing for the greatest country in the world, it gives them the inspiration to keep doing it. It validates that sacrifice for us.”