Teen’s ‘Operation Hawkeye’ Pays Tribute to 30 Fallen Troops
This is how we here at TMV started reporting on what would turn out to be the deadliest helicopter crash in the Allies’ decade-long involvement in Afghanistan and the biggest single loss of life for US forces in Afghanistan since operations began in 2001– it still is. It is also believed to be the biggest single loss ever suffered by the Naval Special Warfare (NSW) community or in the 24-year history of U.S. Special Operations Command:
A very tragic development in our involvement in Afghanistan. Several news sources are reporting that “dozens” of U.S. soldiers were killed in a helicopter crash near the Afghan capital, Kabul, late Friday night.
The New York Times reports that the Chinook helicopter was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade launched by insurgents just west of Kabul.
As the updates began to come in the scope of the disaster became clear:
The final toll was 30 American and eight Afghanistan troops killed. Among the American casualties were 22 members of the NSW Command (17 SEALs and five direct support personnel). Most of them were members of SEAL Team 6, the counterterrorism unit that carried out the mission to find Osama bin Laden, although none of the commandos who died in the crash were involved in that mission.
The SEALs killed were on a nighttime mission to kill or capture two high-level insurgents known for organizing devastating roadside bomb attacks on American convoys, officials said.
A few days later the Department of Defense announced the names of all 30 servicemembers who died in Wardak province, Afghanistan, of wounds suffered when their CH-47 Chinook helicopter crashed.
While many of us are beginning to forget this tragedy, Will Thomas, a 13-year-old boy from McLean, Va., definitely has not. As a matter of fact he has been thinking of it every day since August 6, 2011, and has been doing something to help the families of our heroes every day since then.
Will Thomas, 13, of McLean, Va., has used his passion for shooting baskets to raise money for survivors of special operations service members killed in an Aug. 6, 2011, helicopter crash in Afghanistan. Courtesy photo
Here is his story as told by Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr. of the Armed Forces Press Service:
One of the most tragic moments of the war in Afghanistan has inspired an American teenager to honor the memory of 30 fallen service members and to help their families — by shooting hoops.
Will Thomas, a 13-year-old boy from McLean, Va., 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.”
Please visit the Operation Hawkeye web site here
Edited to include eight Afghanistan troops who were also killed in the crash.