By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service
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 â€œOperation Hawkeyeâ€ 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 Afghanistanâ€™s Wardak province.Will recalled hearing about the crash from his father.
â€œI was just outside shooting baskets with my dad â€¦ when it happened. â€¦ â€œI was just thinking â€˜Wow, thatâ€™s a horrible loss.â€™â€Struck by the great loss of life, the 8th grader felt a strong urge to do something to help the grieving familiesâ€™ 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.â€œMy dad and I were talking, and I said â€˜Iâ€™d really like to do something about this,â€™â€ the teenager said. â€œHe [asked], â€˜Well what would you like to do?â€™ and we thought about it.â€His father suggested shooting baskets, he said, because thatâ€™s what they were doing when they got the news.
â€œSo we just thought if there was a way we could work that into help, that would be great,â€ Will said.
He didnâ€™t have to go far to start Operation Hawkeye, shooting baskets in his driveway in exchange for donations to the families. Will didnâ€™t stop until he had raised nearly $80,000 for the Navy SEAL Foundation.He didnâ€™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. â€œI shoot a lot, but, obviously, it was more than I usually do,â€ he said.
He named his effort Operation Hawkeye after the loyal pet of one of the victims. â€œThere was a dog of one of the fallen soldiers from Aug. 6,â€ he said. â€œAt the soldierâ€™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.â€Will has set this yearâ€™s Operation Hawkeye goal at $310,000, an amount he hopes to raise from donations and pledges. â€œThere were 31 members of the team that fell â€“ 30 members and one highly trained dog. So we just added the zeroes to it, because it was a significant number.â€
With success from his last fundraiser, Will said he feels encouraged and intends to continue to raise money in honor of the fallen troops â€œas long as people are willing to donate.â€