McLean Teen Raising Funds for Families of Fallen Troops

By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service

Will Thomas (Family photo via DOD)

One of the most tragic moments of the war in Afghanistan has inspired a McLean teenager to honor the memory of 30 fallen service members and to help their families — by shooting hoops.

Will Thomas, 13, has spearheaded “Operation Hawkeye” in an effort to raise money to help the families of fallen special operators — particularly, 30 American troops killed in an Aug. 6, 2011, CH-47 Chinook helicopter crash that also claimed the lives of eight Afghan forces and a military working dog.U.S. investigators concluded that a Taliban insurgent fired a rocket-propelled grenade that brought down the chopper as it attempted to land in Afghanistan’s Wardak province.Will recalled hearing about the crash from his father.

“I was just outside shooting baskets with my dad … when it happened. … “I was just thinking ‘Wow, that’s a horrible loss.’”Struck by the great loss of life, the 8th grader felt a strong urge to do something to help the grieving families’ healing process, in part because one of those left a widow is a fellow Mclean native whose husband, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Jonas B. Kelsall, was killed in the crash.“My dad and I were talking, and I said ‘I’d really like to do something about this,’” the teenager said. “He [asked], ‘Well what would you like to do?’ and we thought about it.”His father suggested shooting baskets, he said, because that’s what they were doing when they got the news.

“So we just thought if there was a way we could work that into help, that would be great,” Will said.

He didn’t have to go far to start Operation Hawkeye, shooting baskets in his driveway in exchange for donations to the families.  Will didn’t stop until he had raised nearly $80,000 for the Navy SEAL Foundation.He didn’t have to do anything special to prepare for his task, he said, but he admitted with a laugh he was plenty sore afterward, having shot 20,317 baskets. “I shoot a lot, but, obviously, it was more than I usually do,” he said.

He named his effort Operation Hawkeye after the loyal pet of one of the victims. “There was a dog of one of the fallen soldiers from Aug. 6,” he said. “At the soldier’s funeral, the dog refused to leave the casket. So when I saw the article about it, I thought that would be a cool name for it.”Will has set this year’s Operation Hawkeye goal at $310,000, an amount he hopes to raise from donations and pledges. “There were 31 members of the team that fell – 30 members and one highly trained dog. So we just added the zeroes to it, because it was a significant number.”

With success from his last fundraiser, Will said he feels encouraged and intends to continue to raise money in honor of the fallen troops “as long as people are willing to donate.”


About the Author

Truman Lewis
A former reporter and bureau chief, Truman Lewis has covered presidential campaigns, state politics and stories ranging from organized crime to environmental and consumer protection.