Jemison soldier returns home

Published 7:31 am Friday, December 23, 2011

Cheers erupted from family and friends of Jemison’s Donny Eslinger as he emerged from the concourse at the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport on Dec. 22.

Lifelong friends and former classmates raised “Donny Strong” signs in the air in a long-awaited reunion with their soldier who survived critical injuries in Afghanistan this year.

Eslinger conveyed mixed emotions about the hero’s homecoming he received Thursday.

“Overwhelmed right now, but as soon as I get home, I’m going to lay down in my bed,” Eslinger said. “Then I’ll be home.”

His first visit to Chilton County since September will extend through New Year’s. After that, he and his mother, Mary Sazera, will return to Tampa to prepare for his final surgery in Washington D.C., tentatively scheduled for mid-January.

Despite everything he has endured the past three months, Eslinger expressed no hesitations about going back into combat with his fellow infantrymen if given the chance.

“I would go back right now,” he said.

Eslinger is non-deployable now, but he still has the option of pursuing a career in the United States military.

He said he also plans to go to college and perhaps become a contractor.

For now, he is content to spend Christmas with his family and, in his spare time, go through the seven footlockers sitting in his bedroom, filled with all of his personal belongings from overseas.

Sazera said an empty potato chip bag was among his items—evidence that the Army left nothing out.

“He can’t wait to go through it,” Sazera said, laughing.