Eslinger to return home Thursday

Published 2:30 pm Monday, December 19, 2011

Family and friends of PFC Donny Eslinger, 20, of Jemison will receive a priceless gift on Thursday, Dec. 22 as Eslinger returns to his hometown for the holidays.

His plane is scheduled to land at the Birmingham Shuttlesworth International Airport at noon on Thursday, and anyone wishing to welcome him home is invited to bring American flags and  line up from Exit 219 toward Jemison at 1 p.m. for his expected time of arrival between 1:15 and 1:30 p.m.

This visit will mark the first time Eslinger has set foot on Chilton County soil since he left in September to finish his first tour of duty for the United States Army in Afghanistan.

Eslinger’s tour overseas was cut short, however, when a surprise batch of rocket-propelled grenades from Afghan troops overtook his unit’s base and left him critically wounded.

Eslinger’s road to recovery has carried him from Afghanistan, to Germany, to Maryland and finally to Tampa, Fla., where he is undergoing rehabilitation for a traumatic brain injury caused by the grenades.

President Barack Obama awarded Eslinger his Purple Heart on Oct. 10 at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Maryland.

Mary Sazera, Eslinger’s mother, has stayed by her son’s side every step of the way and has provided her network of family, friends and supporters with regular updates.

In her Dec. 17 Facebook post about Eslinger’s holiday visit, Sazera said, “The best ‘thank you’ I can give to all of you who have prayed for us and supported us along this journey will walk off the plane with me next Thursday at 12:30 p.m. in Birmingham.”

Sazera said they will be home through New Year’s and hope to be in Washington, D.C. in mid-January for a final surgery, after which Eslinger will be back in Tampa for several months to continue rehab and wait for the Army’s decision about his future in its ranks.