2018 Veterans Grant Winners

To recognize the sacrifices veterans have made for our country, the law firm of David Resnick & Associates is awarding cash grants to men and women who have served in the U.S. armed forces.

“On Your Side, Fighting For You.”

That’s the motto at David Resnick & Associates. It also applies to veterans. While our firm fights for injured victims in the courtroom and at the negotiating table, veterans were on our country’s side, fighting to protect all of us. We believe it’s time to honor deserving vets.

Check our main Veterans Grant page to learn the latest submission details.

We are proud to announce that we have chosen our three winners:

  • 1st Place: John M. Swanson, U.S. Army
  • 2nd Place: Ashley Chavez, U.S. Navy
  • 3rd Place: Aaron Wallenkamp, U.S. Army

1st Place

John M. Swanson, U.S. Army

Nominated by John R. Swanson

Essay by John R. Swanson: Our nation is blessed with selfless men and women who place themselves in harm’s way in the defense of freedom. Veterans of military service tend to be humble, self-effacing individuals who internalize, rather than share, their military experience. Compositions highlighting those experiences gives voice to inspirational stories that should be shared in acknowledging the quiet, highly personal military service of veterans. The service of these men and women is only made possible through the support of our nation and members of the units in which they serve, the efforts of citizens, businesses and other organizations as well as support from the veteran’s family and friends.

Our son, John M. Swanson, would be the last individual to nominate himself for any consideration of a grant honoring veterans. His experiences are probably similar to many other veterans. In 2004, John was a community college student majoring in criminal justice as our military was embroiled in the Global War on Terrorism. His decision one day to leave school and enlist in the Army caught our family completely by surprise. John’s enlistment journey initially took him from his home in Fayetteville, NC to the Raleigh, NC Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS).

Within our family, John is a fourth generation Army veteran who swore the requisite oath to defend our Constitution from all enemies ” … foreign and domestic.” He is also a third generation Paratrooper and infantryman, whose military service spanned from May 5, 2004, through November 28, 2016.

John’s request at MEPS was that I, as his father and a retired commissioned officer, administer the oath of enlistment to him. I have administered that oath dozens of times to Soldiers. However, no other oath I administered was ever as personal or evocative.

John’s Basic and Infantry Advanced Individual Training were followed by Airborne School. His first utilization tour following training was to Fort Richardson AK, as a Private First Class with the newly reactivated 3rd Battalion, 509th Infantry Regiment (Airborne). A decorated World War II unit whose honored motto is “Geronimo”.

He married a wonderful young lady prior to his first deployment, 2006-2007, to Iraq. John and his squad mates were soon considered seasoned combat veterans as the number of firefights quickly grew from their first patrols. As days, weeks and months rolled by, John’s unit settled into a routine of platoon-and company-size operations.

Between operations, sporadic rocket or mortar attacks shattered any illusions of relative safety at John’s various bases. By phone, family members often received gut-wrenching descriptions, sometimes as often as twice a week, of combat with opposing forces.

On his twenty-fourth birthday, John’s platoon was attacked by a battalion-size al-Qaeda element. The attack was one that was meticulously crafted and well synchronized. By all accounts, the rate and exchange of fire was intense with engagement distances measured at times in not more than the length or width of a block. Outnumbered, inaccessible and decisively engaged for more than an hour before the arrival of reinforcements, John’s platoon acquitted themselves in the finest traditions of the 509th Infantry Regiment, but not without causalities.

James Dietz’s painting, At The End of the Day, is considered by John and others to be a dramatic representation of the battle’s aftermath. John and his wife gave me a numbered copy Mr. Dietz’s print as a Christmas present in 2007.

John’s deployment slightly preceded the highly controversial 2007 troop surge. Coinciding with the announcement of the surge, was the decision to extend the tours of deployed Brigades in Iraq. In 2006-2007, the Iraqi environment was characterized by the Department of Defense as being “kinetic”. To family members anxiously awaiting the safe return of their recently extended Soldiers, the perception of “kinetic” was that it represented a violent, deadly fight for survival.

Promoted to squad leader, John and his family were transferred to Fort Lewis, WA in 2008. John’s experiences in his first deployment shaped his squad’s preparation and training for his second Iraqi tour which rapidly followed in 2009-2010, this time with the 1st Battalion 23rd Infantry Regiment (“Tomahawk”).

His final deployment in 2012, as a two-tour combat veteran and father of two small children, was to the Panjwai district, Kandahar province, Afghanistan. Several villages within the Panjwai valley are claimed by the Taliban as their spiritual birthplace. Preparations to engage the Taliban on their home turf mandated insightful changes in the application of tactics, techniques and procedures.

Once more, John’s platoon quickly settled into a daily routine. About ninety days before he was scheduled to redeploy, John’s wheeled armored vehicle, a Stryker, was second in the platoon’s convoy returning from a village along a dusty road leading back to their Forward Operating Base (FOB). John’s Stryker was following the wheeled tracks of the lead Stryker, when it rolled over the buried pressure plate of a massive improvised explosive device (IED).

The blast stood the eighteen-ton Stryker on its nose and the shock wave simultaneously pushed the Stryker 200 meters down the road away from the blast crater. Mercifully, the Stryker came to rest, settling on its hull rather than flipping onto its top. Those rushing to provide aid found all eight occupants concussed and unconscious. All were evacuated and all were later diagnosed as suffering from “mild” traumatic brain injury (TBI) (not to mention hearing loss). Following his return to Fort Lewis WA, John underwent a Medical Evaluation Board (MEB) process which retained him on active duty by directing a military occupation specialty (MOS) reclassification.

The various effects of TBI (i.e. memory loss, mood swings, and frustration to name a few) can potentially destroy both the Soldier and his/her family. There is shockingly little offered to equip a family attempting to help veterans suffering from the invisible scars left by TBI. John’s entire family and friends united to engage and support him, as well as each other, by applying a liberal home remedy of steady communications, patience, encouragement, forgiveness and maintaining a sense of humor. There is also great utility and virtue in having a thick skin.

In early 2015, John made the difficult decision to leave the Army and return to school to resume and to complete his education. When he separated from Active Federal Service, John had served as an Infantry team leader once, and as a squad leader three times, directing and leading Soldiers in combat. He was also a fully successful Noncommissioned Officer. Among his various awards and decorations included an award of the Combat Infantry Badge (CIB) as well as the Purple Heart. In three combat tours, John estimates he participated in five-hundred patrols, fifty raids, twenty ambushes, various mortar and rocket attacks, as well as an unknown number of firefights, and he survived ten out of the eleven IEDs targeting the vehicle he rode in.

John spent about seven total years, or a little more than half of his enlistment, overseas. Like any veteran of military service, John was the benefactor of a certain amount of luck and an overabundance of prayers. John returning from deployments was facilitated by a loving, supportive and extremely patient wife who ministered to him during and between his overseas tours. Even though he is still dealing with the repercussions of TBI, John remains very active in engaging and encouraging fellow veterans suffering from the ill effects of TBI or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), to immediately seek treatment and obtain critical care. John does so by routinely accessing social media sites and remaining engaged with fellow veterans and their families.

John supported his wife Amanda during deployments by allocating part of his educational benefits to ensure Amanda completed her Bachelor and Master degrees in Special Education. John has resumed his undergraduate studies and is currently enrolled in Campbell University NC as a full-time student, majoring in Homeland Security. While still struggling from the ill effects of memory loss, John made the Dean’s List, having earned all A’s last semester. His greatest accomplishments are in his various roles as a devoted husband, a protective father of adoring children, a beloved grandson, a loving big brother, an awesome uncle, cherished nephew, jovial cousin, steadfast friend, and a respected son. John and Amanda reside in Moore County, NC with their three children.

Thank you for providing a venue to acknowledge the experiences of all veterans. One sentence from President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address eloquently captures the spirit of honoring those who have served: “It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

Our entire family and John’s friends are deeply grateful for the opportunity to share John’s story.

2nd Place

Ashley Chavez, U.S. Navy

Nominated by herself.

I, Ashley Chavez, joined the U.S. Navy on June 13, 2006, homeless at 19. Becoming homeless was a humbling experience. Surviving like this instilled in me a drive to pick myself up, never give up, and hold myself accountable even when the situation gets tough. It was this experience that made me who I am today, always pushing to achieve higher goals and give my absolute best to my dreams.

As a Third Class Petty Officer, I qualified as Engineering Officer of the Watch at Naval Computer Telecommunication Area Master Station, Atlantic. I was responsible for the maintenance and oversight of 15 Emergency Diesel Generators, 5 Uninterruptible Power Supply units and 60 climate control units that supported the safe operation o f $100M of specialized C4I global communication equipment that resulted in maximum communications and readiness for the ENTIRE Atlantic Fleet.

As a Second Class Petty Officer, I diligently executed the installation of 105 critical repair parts while coordinating the overhaul and testing of the oxygen and nitrogen production plant CAP-16 low pressure air compressor, placing the oxygen producer back in service enabling USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71)’s attainment of comprehensive mission readiness.

As a First Class Petty Officer taking advantage of all leadership opportunities available to me, onboard USS Gerald R Ford (CVN 78) I served as Auxiliaries Division Leading Petty Officer, 3M supervisor for Engineering Department and President of the First Class Petty Officer Association President and CPO 365 Phase I co-lead.

As Auxiliaries Division Leading Petty Officer, I led 12 First Class Petty Officers and 30 junior Sailors during a successful Crew Certification III and Acceptance Trials. My mentorship resulted in 95% equipment readiness, 43% advancement, an increase of 56% in in-rate qualifications, 21% apprenticeship certification and a 64% retention rate significantly contributing to the future force.

While serving as Engineering Department’s 3M Assistant, I was responsible for coordinating and directly supervising all facets of 3M systems. I implemented and evaluated Planned Maintenance System actions and the ability to operate and effectively manage 23 work centers, maintaining 100% accountability while focusing on process improvement and was also HAND SELECTED by the Commanding Officer over every Senior Enlisted member onboard as the USS Gerald R Ford’s Oxygen Clean Certifier/Instructor due to my vast knowledge and track record of superior performance.

I was elected by 408 of my peers as the First Class Petty Officer Association President increasing command involvement by 25%, overseeing the coordination of 20 community volunteer events and devoted 23 off-duty hours leading a Veteran’s Day celebration for Acqua Senior Living Community improving community relations between USS Gerald R Ford and the Hampton Roads community of Virginia.

CPO 365 is a Chief of Naval Operations driven program designed for First Class Petty Officers, divided into two phases, to help them with leadership development and administrative training to effectively lead their junior Sailors and assist with the transition to Chief Petty Officer. While serving as co-lead, I oversaw training development, physical fitness events and community relation opportunities that resulted in 51 of my peers becoming selected as Chief Petty Officer for FY-19.

I excel at time and personnel management and multi-tasking, as evident, in my diverse leadership roles, completion of advance qualifications and my Associate’s Degree. I left the U.S. Navy with an Honorable Discharge on March 8, 2018 to continue my education and obtain a Bachelor’s Degree in Mechanical Engineering. My past, my present and my future are the three elements that motivate me to continue to reach for higher goals and obtain what I never thought could be possible for someone who started with nothing.

3rd Place

Aaron Wallenkamp, U.S. Army

Nominated by Keri Wallenkamp.

Essay by Keri Wallenkamp: Those who choose to serve are the backbone of our country. Less than 1% of our nations population choose to serve in our armed forces, and my husband, Aaron, is part of that tiny minority.

Enlisting in the Army was always a dream of my husbands every since he was little. All the most important people to my husband had all served, and his view is if they can influence him and become his hero, then he can do the same. Aaron enlisted in January 2007, while still a senior in high school, he left for basic training in June of that year at Fort Jackson. His MOS was a Wrecker Operator and Diesel Mechanic which eventually landed in him in snowy Fort Drum, NY. Aaron served for four years, with one tour of duty in Iraq, from December 2009 to August 2010.

While in Iraq, he saw so much, and learned much more. He depended on his training, the training of his superiors, and the men and women he worked with on a daily basis. He would be up working for 72 hours straight, sleep six hours and start all over again. He says a part of Iraq will always be with him, whether it’s the people he met over his course of time there, the smell of the city, and the camel burgers that somehow tasted much like a Wisconsin cheeseburger, although I have a hard time believing. He says there is so much beauty to such an ugly situation, and that in that beauty there is also disaster. You go in believing you can make a difference, and for most you can, but for the others they are set in their ways, any good situation can turn in a blink of an eye.

When Aaron returned stateside, things weren’t bad at first, but over time loud noises began to bother him, sleeping became harder. Although he wanted to believe he could take on the inner battle of anger, stress, and the loss of belief in the positive, he couldn’t. Aaron was honorably discharged in June of 2011, where he came back home to Wisconsin and me. Things were not easy, but we stood by each other through anything that was thrown our way. The diagnosis of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder put a lot into perspective. Counseling seemed to not get anywhere, and after a year of trying all the normal ways to cope, we adopted a dog in the hopes of building a relationship and finding the compassion he so sadly lost. Mischief became our miracle. He had a rough start to his life, he was a bait dog for a dog fighting ring down south, and no matter what he walked into a room with his giddy strut and love. Aaron and Mischief built a relationship, they walked the beaches of Port Washington every day, went on car rides, and where ever we were Mischief was right by our side and Aaron found compassion and new outlook on life.

We have continued our strength together every day, and today we have so much because of the challenges we have gone through. In 2015, Aaron decided to go back to school, studying 3D Design and Fabrication in hopes to help wounded veterans when it comes to 3D printing and prototyping. We bought our home in 2016, he is amazing husband and father to our two little kids, he is the hardest working person I know. He works full time, attends school full time, and manages to be on high honors dean’s list every semester. With only a year and half to go, he can feel that diploma in his hands, and the sense of building an even brighter future.