I knew I wanted to join the Army by the time I was 20 years old. In the months leading up to that birthday, I had taken some time to try to discover my career path and what I wanted to do with my life. After some self-reflection and looking inward, I realized that I wanted my life to serve a greater purpose than myself. I wanted my life to have meaning.
Two months after my 20th birthday, I arrived at basic training, ready to start my career and future with the United States Army. I served for 12 years, including seven years in the special forces.
During my time serving, I was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, and it was there that I lost my leg to sniper fire. The weeks and months that followed the injury were some of the most difficult that I had ever experienced. It was a devastating injury that would impact my life forever, but I was not ready to let it define my life. Following my recovery and rehabilitation, I attended Special Forces Sniper School and became the first amputee to graduate.
I often think about my decision to serve my country, even re-enlisting after losing my leg. The impact that my experiences have had on me is hard to describe, but it is an impact that I feel every single day.
While joining the Army taught me so many lessons, the biggest lesson I learned was how to live a life of selfless service, a life for others. The mentality of focusing on myself was not an option anymore. Instead, it was all about the team and serving a greater good.
I learned so much while in the Army, and leaving it was not easy. Once my time in the Army had come to its conclusion, the transition into civilian life was difficult to say the least. Not only was I transitioning from my career, I was also transitioning with my health. I was not only having to learn how to live my life as an amputee, but now also as a civilian. Throughout this transition, I would consistently question myself with what I was going to do next and how I was going to provide for my family. And for a while, I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I knew that I had to keep moving.
A phrase that I always say is to “lean forward and fight hard” and that is what pushed me through this difficult time.
This mission remains true with the work that I do today. As a veteran and an amputee, I know how important it is to honor those who have put their lives on the line, thank them for their service and of course, give back to them, so that they too can experience the American dream that they fought so selflessly to protect.
Last year, I co-founded a bottled water brand called Live to Give. With every purchase, we donate 50% of our net profits to organizations that support military, first responders and their families.
While I can no longer physically serve my country as I did in the Army, building Live to Give and a team of people who want to give back is my new way of serving my country.
About the Author
John Wayne Walding spent 12 years in the United States Army, including seven years in the Special Forces Group at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina. After losing his leg in battle in 2008, John went on to become the first amputee to graduate Special Forces Sniper School. Today, John serves as co-founder of Live to Give, a beverage company that donates half of its net profits to first responders, military members and their families.