Honor & Courage

“Committed to Honoring those of Courage Defending our Freedom”

One of the main goals of Operation Ward 57 has been to provide continued support to our Heroes recovering in the hospital as well as continue that support once they leave and go home for as long as they and their families need us.  We also want to continue to give our Heroes a “sense of purpose” and “we still need you” mentality. Our role has been to provide additional support through advocacy, education and promotion of their circumstances.

In order for us to be able to meet this need more effectively we have formed a team of volunteer wounded Heroes to serve as caseworkers/mentors to offer much needed support, compassion and motivation to those who are currently struggling with their injuries both seen and unseen.  This support is open to all eras of veterans (as well as any first responder). These wounded Heroes have healed from their own difficult injuries and have learned to cope with issues like PTSD, TBI, medical issues and more and can provide peer support and guidance to those who need it.

Additionally, the program provides small grants to those needing temporary financial assistance.  Many times our wounded soldiers enter a period of transition as they move from active duty to civilian life. As much as our government tries hard to take care of them, many experience struggles during the transition and find themselves unable to adapt and with financial troubles. Additionally, many times mothers, fathers, husbands, wives become caregivers to our wounded heroes and are forced to leave their jobs. Temporary and emergency financial aid is needed to pay bills including mortgage, rent, utilities, food and home and vehicle disability retrofits.

The Honor & Courage Hotline is available 24/7 to any era Veteran, service member, family member or caregiver as well as all Law Enforcement Officers, Fire Fighters and First Responders.

Goals for this program are:

  • Wounded Hero Mentors & Case Management
  • Crisis Management & Suicide Prevention
  • Wounded Hero Motivational Speakers
  • Youth Motivational Speakers
  • Advocacy & Education
  • Small Grants

If you are a Veteran, service member, family member or caregiver or a Law Enforcement Officer, Fire Fighter or First Responders and are struggling or just need someone to talk to our phone line is available 24/7 at 267-210-6956 or you may also reach us at
honor@operationward57.org or on our Facebook Page HERE.

Please welcome our team of volunteers supporting The Honor & Courage Program:

Heather Sliwinski

Heather has been proudly married for 24 years, and has wonderful children.  Heather has worked very hard her entire life for things that are important to her.  About 12 years ago she was trained and certified as a professional childbirth assistant.  After started her own successful business she had the privilege of assisting approximately 157 new mothers deliver their newborn babies.  Then the terror attacks of Sept. 11th happened and our country went to war.  Being extremely passionate about the Heroes who voluntarily serve in our military Heather began collecting items to send overseas to those fighting the war on terror.  As the war escalated – so did her compassion, and respect for our troops.  She left her paying job to volunteer with numerous organizations that were supporting our military. Heather currently has 10 years of experience as a case worker and advocate for our wounded Heroes.  “Being there for our Heroes at all hours of the day, providing them the support, encouragement and advice that they need means the world to me.”

Andrew Smith

Andrew served 3 years as an infantry soldier with the Army’s elite 10th Mountain Division. In 2003, while on a mission in Fallujah, Iraq, Andrew was hit by shrapnel when his convoy was ambushed. After being discharged from the Army in 2005, he has stayed busy by serving others with his life. After coaching high school basketball in Georgia, Andrew was hired as a youth pastor in Riner, Virginia in 2006. In 2010 he started a clothing line that quickly became popular with members of the military and civilians showing support for our troops. Through Fallujah Tactical, awareness and funds have been raised to help ensure our Nation’s wounded are not forgotten. Andrew continues to stay busy mentoring teenagers and speaking at events across the nation.

Irene Whiteside

Irene has an extensive background in many different walks of life, including a college instructor, executive administration, she has owned and built several businesses from the ground up, and has worked in high offices in government, including as a lobbyist in California. But she is most passionate about serving veterans and their needs as a case worker and Veteran’s advocate, especially since her daughter serves in the US Army National Guard.

Shannon Sensenig’s

Shannon’s interest in supporting our troops was sparked when his best friend joined the Marines in 2007. He began sending care packages to deployed troops and raising awareness for groups that sent care packages to our troops. In 2009, Shannon enlisted in the Navy as a Hospital Corpsman. After completing boot camp and his initial training, he was stationed at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, VA. In 2011, Shannon was deployed on the USNS COMFORT in support of Continuing Promise 2011. In November 2012, Hospital Corpsman Second Class Sensenig reported to the USS DENVER LPD-9 home ported in Sasebo, Japan. After several deployments, he was part of the ship’s crew who decommissioned the ship in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. He is currently stationed at the Navy Medicine Professional Development Center in Bethesda, MD.

Shannon has a passion for supporting our deployed troops, and continuing that support after they return. “Our Nation’s wounded warriors deserve the best care and support after they return, whether they suffer from physical, emotional, or mental wounds. I believe it is very important to raise awareness for our wounded warriors, and to support them and their families, for the sacrifices they have made.” Shannon believes that going the extra mile for our wounded warriors is nothing compared to the sacrifices they have made for our country.

Shannon actively supports our wounded, ill, and injured heroes at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

Omar Avila

Nine months into their deployment on May 14, 2007, Charlie Company of the 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment was patrolling Adhamiyah, a Sunni enclave in northeast Baghdad that was arguably the most dangerous neighborhood in Iraq. During a complex attack on their combat patrol Avila’s truck hit a 200-pound improvised explosive device rupturing the gas tank sending fuel everywhere causing the truck to burst into flames. With fire engulfing the truck everywhere, all he could hear people were screaming, as he looked around he saw that a fellow soldier, SPC Hartge had been killed. As he lay there taking all of it in, he began to think, “This is it, I am done, this is it for me.” He looked at his buddy Staff Sgt. Juan Campos and heard him say, “Get out man.” At that moment something came over Omar, he thought about his family and friends, and he sensed God with him at the very moment saying, “Get up Omar, this is not where you die, not today.”

He managed to climb out of the truck through the gunners hatch and when he jumped he hit the ground and broke both of his legs. A fellow soldier used a fire extinguisher to douse the flames burning Avila. Then as he was trying to stand to load into a humvee, he suffered compound fractures to his legs above both knees. After a heroic rescue he was medivaced, and ended up suffering burns over 75 percent of his body and had part of his foot amputated. His buddy SSG Juan Campos, later succumbed to his wounds at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. In 2011, through a nonprofit program, Omar returned to the battlefield where he had been injured four years earlier. This program helps wounded warriors find emotional closure. Omar believes that his experience and how he has learned to cope will allow him to be better able to help other fellow soldiers who are going through difficult times.

Justin Gindhart

Justin enlisted in the US Army right out of high school to be a Combat Medic. After completing training he was assigned to 2nd Battalion, 502nd Infantry Regiment, 2nd BCT of the 101st Airborne Division, and was attached to 2nd Platoon Charlie Company and deployed with them on a 14 month tour in Iraq. While in Iraq he saw combat action and on December 20th, 2007 his convoy was hit, and a friend and platoon mate lost his legs. Justin, along with help from his platoon and the medical team in a convoy behind them, were able to save his friend.

Little did he know that this event, along with others, it would change his life forever. After returning from Iraq he was assigned to Keller Army Community Hospital as an ER Medic. After over a year of being out of combat he started to experience symptoms of PTSD. He was able to get help in time, and with the help of groups like Honor and Courage was able to get through the darkest time in his life. He was Medically Discharged from the Army in April of 2011 and is now attending College, pursuing a Bachelors Science in Nursing. Justin hopes to use his own experiences to help other veterans get through the recovery process. He has one thing to say to our wounded warriors, “you are not alone.”

Shannon has a passion for supporting our deployed troops, and continuing that support after they return. “Our Nation’s wounded warriors deserve the best care and support after they return, whether they suffer from physical, emotional, or mental wounds. I believe it is very important to raise awareness for our wounded warriors, and to support them and their families, for the sacrifices they have made.” Shannon believes that going the extra mile for our wounded warriors is nothing compared to the sacrifices they have made for our country.

Shannon actively supports our wounded, ill, and injured heroes at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

Christopher Charles Ruoff

Christopher was born August 27, 1988, and raised in a small town in the hills of California. Ever since he was a little child, he wanted to be in the military, he just did not know which branch. His senior year came around and he started looking heavily into the Marine Corps. He liked everything the Marine Corps had to offer. He really wanted to be a part of and have his name in the Marine Corps history books. December 15, 2005, came around and he officially swore into the United States Marine Corps. Eight months later, on August 5, 2006, he left his home and made a new one at Marine Corps Recruiting Depot San Diego. He graduated November 3, 2006, from Third Battalion, India Company, platoon 3033.

One year later, he was stationed at NAS JRB Willow Grove, PA, as a CH-53E airframes and hydraulics mechanic. Six months later, he was chosen to become an aerial gunner. In January 2009, the activation order came out that they were deploying to the Helmand Province in Afghanistan. April 20, 2009, he took his first steps out onto the runway at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. One week later his squadron was moved to Camp Bastion/ Camp Leatherneck where they would continue their operations. He stepped on the plane home from Afghanistan on December 15, 2009. While he was over there he helped insert one battalion of Marines, over one million pounds of cargo and pulled one battalion of Marines out.

He flew over 375 combat flight hours, multiple raids and inserts, earned his aircrew wings and then earned his combat aircrew wings with three gold stars. He earned one individual air medal for his actions on a flight that had a mechanical malfunction. He got out of active duty August 7, 2011. Now he is a Sergeant stationed at Fort Dix, New Jersey, in the Marine Corps Reserves. Since he has seen first-hand the visible and invisible wounds of war, he feel it is his duty to assist his fellow brothers and sisters in their time of need.

Cpl. Wesley Leon-Barrientos

Born on September 16, 1984 in Puerto Barrios, Guatemala and grew up in Bakersfield, CA. He graduated from Ridgeview High School in 2002. When he turned 18 years old he enlisted in the U.S. Army because of the events of September 11, 2001 and was stationed at Ft. Hood, TX with the 4th Infantry Division, with who he did his 1st tour of duty to IRAQ from 2003-2004. He reenlisted in November 2004 and in 2005 he was stationed at Ft. Campbell, KY and assigned as a Machine Gunner with C Company 2nd Battalion/502nd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), with who he deployed to IRAQ for a 2nd tour of duty on September 2005 to an area just Southwest of Baghdad called “The Sunni Triangle of Death” His unit was in charge of bringing peace to a region that was controlled by the enemy in the town of Sadr Al Yusufiyah.

While on his second tour of duty his unit suffered a very high number of casualties and he was wounded twice, first on December 2005, when an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) detonated near his vehicle and he received minor cuts on his face and a concussion. He was wounded a second time on February 8, 2006, when his vehicle was hit with a Rocket Propelled Grenade and received a shrapnel wound to the back of the head. He completed his second tour of Iraq in September 2006 with great results. Immediately after his Units return, they were informed that they were going on another deployment to Iraq in less than 12 months. After training his fire team for almost a year the orders came in and on OCTOBER 2007, he shipped out on his third tour of duty to Iraq. On DECEMBER 20, 2007, while he as returning to his Forward Operating Base after a long mission, his vehicle was hit again by an improvised explosive device, where he was severely wounded and had both legs amputated, he was transferred to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Landstuhl, Germany.

He finally arrived at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. on December 23, 2007 where he spent 18 months recovering from his injuries. He pushed himself during his recovery and managed to start walking 3 ½ months after he was wounded and begin to run 2 weeks before the 6th month mark. While completing his rehabilitation at the hospital, his daughter Brianna was born on January 18, 2009, 13 months after he was wounded. After an 18 month recovery with a lot of help from Family, Friends, Community, and Staff he was able to return home for good. Now he is back in Bakersfield, CA and he volunteers his time to many organizations to serve his community and his fellow veterans as he served his country. His military awards include 3 Purple Hearts, Combat Infantry Badge, 5 Army Commendation Medals, and 2 Army Good Conduct Medals.