SFC (Ret.) John Wayne Walding, USA
SFC Walding grew up in Texas and was raised by his grandparents. He joined the Army in 2001. He was involved in the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003 and joined Special Forces in 2005. He deployed for a second tour to Afghanistan in 2007-2008. Being born on the fourth of July with a name like John Wayne, arguably few people could be called more American.
The day of his injury Walding and his team ventured into territory previously untouched by coalition forces to capture several high-value targets. The mountain village where the insurgents were hiding had been used to stockpile weapons since the time of the Russian invasion in the 1980s. With no roads leading into the valley, Operational Detachment-Alpha 3336, along with their Afghan commando counterparts, flew in by helicopter. Upon reaching the infiltration point, the team made a 10-foot jump out of the birds, as the pilots were unable to land. Many of them landed in a waist-deep, icy river, and with the temperatures already around 30º. The group made its way up a treacherous mountainside to the fortress-like village, which rested on a hill at about 10,000 feet.
As they approached they began to receive heavy fire from all directions. A six- and –a-half-hour firefight began, during which the team called in Air Force F-15s for danger-close air support 70 times. More than 150 insurgents were killed in the fight. But due to approaching weather, rising casualties for the team, and nearly 200 insurgents closing in on their position, they were forced to withdraw.
Their only route was to go down a cliff face. Followed by intense firing, the team quickly descended using rocks and branches. Every member of the team had sustained some form of injury, so the less injured helped the more critical casualties down the sheer face. Walding, having been shot near the knee by a nipper, tied his nearly severed leg to his thigh and began his descent. The last step was a 20-foot drop. SFC Walding was awarded the Purple Heart for his sacrifice of our freedom and received the Silver Star and the Bronze Star for his valor and courage in the midst of life threatening enemy gunfire. Due to the great support of the Special Operations Command Care Coalition, he healed from his amputation and then decided he wanted to attend Sniper School and graduated at the top of his class. And during the Sniper School certification, many in his class were unaware that he was an amputee as he never asked for any special treatment or waivers. He does wear a prosthetic leg and is able to walk normally when he is on the leg.