Archived Story

Eslinger makes miraculous recovery

Published 7:27am Saturday, February 25, 2012


Donny’s strength and determination that earned him the “Donny Strong” slogan surfaced again at the rehabilitation center in Tampa.

He faced up to seven different rehab sessions each day and never gave less than his best, Mary said.

“The training he received in the Army and his desire to walk out of here is pushing him to success,” Mary said in a Facebook post Nov. 7. “He will not give up … he challenges himself to push further.”

Donny progressed so well he earned weekend passes granting him permission to stray from the facility for a few hours at a time.

His passes came in handy for visits with Don, who is sheriff and resident of Seminole County, Fla.

“He did exceptionally well, beyond anyone’s expectations,” Don said.

Donny’s mother shows him a book report he did for Diane Calloway’s English class at Jemison High School in 2010. Calloway found his report in her classroom and sent it to Mary in Washington, D.C. “I am so glad she found it,” Mary said.

As Donny powered through grueling rehab exercises, the Puppy Rescue Mission was working tirelessly to deliver Donny’s K9 friend, Smoke, to him from Afghanistan.

Donny found Smoke during an operation his platoon conducted in a Taliban insurgent safe haven located inside Afghanistan on Aug. 18.

Donny picked up 6-week-old Smoke and placed him in his assault pack, not knowing the stray puppy would become a source of comfort for the soldiers.

The next day, Doug Cordo, a soldier in Donny’s platoon, was killed outside the same village.

“Smoke was the only bit of morale that made these kids forget where they were and cope with the tragedy we just experienced,” said Staff Sgt. Daniel Jarvis, Donny’s squad leader. “It is amazing how therapeutic a little creature can be.”

Jarvis said Donny loved Smoke and took care of him until he was injured in September.

“Many of us in his platoon would love nothing more than to see Smoke reunited with Donny,” Jarvis said. “It would be the only decent thing we would see come from this place.”

The long-awaited reunion finally happened in January. Smoke was 7 months old by then, but the two reconnected as if no time had passed.

“I was so happy to see Smoke. He has gotten so big since I left him at the FOB,” Donny said. “I can’t wait to be home and spend time with him. He has seen more than most humans will ever see. Thanks to everyone for helping to get him home to me, especially Sgt. Jarvis and the Puppy Rescue Mission.”

Donny celebrated Thanksgiving and his 20th birthday Nov. 24 with his family.

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