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John Wayne Walding: Life and Leadership Lessons I Learned In The Military

The first thing that you should do when you realize that you are in a crisis situation is take a pause, or how we say in the Army “take a knee and face out”. Don’t try to solve every problem immediately, but instead, assess the situation. As you take it all in, make a list […]

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The first thing that you should do when you realize that you are in a crisis situation is take a pause, or how we say in the Army “take a knee and face out”. Don’t try to solve every problem immediately, but instead, assess the situation. As you take it all in, make a list of your priorities and then start by knocking down all the low hanging fruit. I always tell our team that we aren’t in a battle getting shot at, and that things could actually be much worse. Having a bad day in business isn’t fun, but it’s not the end of the world. Stay calm, focus and then execute.


I had the pleasure of interviewing John Wayne Walding of Live to Give.

John spent 12 years in the United States Army, including seven years in the Special Forces Group at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina. He served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and during his career at 3rd SFG, he served on ODA 396/3336 as a Special Forces Communications Sergeant and the Sniper Detachment as a Sniper Instructor.

It was during the harrowing battle of Shok Valley on April 6, 2008, that John would lose his leg to a sniper, and yet returned fire for four more hours with his severed lower limb tied to his thigh. The incredible story of that six-hour fight is detailed in the book No Way Out: A Story of Valor in the Mountains of Afghanistan by Mitch Weiss and Kevin Maurer.

Post-injury, John attended Special Forces Sniper School and upon graduation became the first amputee ever to become a Green Beret Sniper. Today John is a successful entrepreneur with an ownership interest in both Gallantry Global, a logistics company, and Live to Give, a beverage company that donates half of its net profits to first responders, military members and their families. John and his wife, Amy, live in Frisco, Texas with their four children. John’s passion in life is his family.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood “backstory”?

I was a small-town kid raised by my grandparents in Texas. Before my 20th birthday, I really started to think about my future and what I wanted to do in my life. I wanted to find something with a bigger meaning where I could make a difference and have an impact on my life. One month after I turned 20, I made my decision and joined the United States Army.

And what are you doing today? Can you share a story that exemplifies the unique work that you are doing?

With Live to Give, we are giving back to those who serve our country and put their lives on the line every day for us. We donate 50% of our net profits from selling our bottled water to organizations that support military, first responders and their families. In recent months following the COVID-19 outbreak, we’ve continued our efforts to give back with a focus on those who are working on these new “frontlines.” We’ve donated hundreds of cases of water to testing sites around Texas and to local schools providing food to kids in need. It’s been incredible to shift our work to give back to those who are protecting us from COVID-19, particularly in our local community.

Can you tell us a bit about your military background?

I joined the army as a Patriot Missile operator and deployed during the initial invasion of Iraq. After that deployment, I volunteered to attend Special Forces Assessment and Selection and was selected to attend SFQC AKA Green Beret School. During my time serving at 3rd Special Forces Group, I was deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan as a Green Beret in the US Army. During the battle of Shok Valley, I lost my right leg to sniper fire but continued to fight alongside my brothers and fellow soldiers while wounded for four more hours. After losing my leg and experiencing an incredibly difficult and enduring recovery process, I attended Special Forces Sniper School and became the first amputee to become a Green Beret Sniper.

Can you share the most interesting story that you experienced during your military career? What “take away” did you learn from that story?

The most interesting experience that I had during my military career was participating in the Green Beret selection process. Many people don’t know that you can’t just raise your hand and decide to be a Green Beret. Instead, you have to sign up to go through a selection process. The process is a 25-day long experience that was one of the most mentally, physically and spiritually testing times in my life. To give you an idea of how difficult it is, the process can typically start with anywhere around 400 soldiers, and by the 25th day, there are less than 100 left. Even if you make it to the last day of the process, you still have to be selected from that group to start Green Beret school. Through this process, I learned one of my biggest life lessons — to lean forward and fight hard. It taught me to just go out there, give it your all and that no matter how much it hurts; I can always keep moving. That lesson gave me the confidence to truly believe in myself.

We are interested in fleshing out what a hero is. Did you experience or hear about a story of heroism during your military experience? Can you share that story with us? Feel free to be as elaborate as you’d like.

I experienced heroism from all the men on ODA3336 on the day that I became a below-knee amputee — April 6, 2008. We were surrounded by firefight, but the heroism of the guys fighting on my right and left was indescribable. We were willing to fight to the death for each other. My fellow soldier and friend, Matt Williams, scaled the mountain we were on under fire to come help us, and Ron Shurer, the only medic on the mountain with four people critically injured, kept all of us alive through it. When it was over and we returned home, our team was awarded two Medal of Honors, eight Silver Stars, eight Purple Hearts, and most importantly, no Americans killed.

Based on that story, how would you define what a “hero” is? Can you explain?

A hero is someone who gave their life for this country and came back with the American flag draped over their coffin. We are patriots who will defend this country, but the real heroes are those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.

Do you think your experience in the military helped prepare you for business or leadership? Can you explain?

Absolutely — the leadership that was instilled in me through the military has set me up for success in business in so many different ways. It has instilled a strong work ethic. I’m no stranger to early mornings and late nights to get the job done. Military leadership is very similar to business leadership. We have to create plans, determine how to execute the plan, examine risks and how to mitigate, just as you would in business. With so much uncertainty in the world right now, the military has also taught me to block out all the noise and focus on what the next objective is.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are?

I would say that the support from so many great Americans has allowed me to validate my sacrifice. They are what keep me going every single day. I always believe that they are worth it, and I always tell them that they’re worth it.

We would like to explore and flesh out how to survive and thrive in crisis. How would you define a crisis?

A crisis can be any unexpected and substantial change in your circumstance that has a profound effect on other aspects of your life or business.

Before a crisis strikes, what should business owners and leaders think about and how should they plan?

They should make a game plan for a variety of predicaments that could negatively impact their business. We call it P.A.C.E. plan. Have a primary, alternate, contingency and emergency plan. But should something unexpected come up, I would recommend that they compartmentalize the project and focus on what they can control. It will also help to remove any outside noise that will distract and demotivate, while you figure out the next steps and actions needed from the team.

There are opportunities to make the best of every situation and it’s usually based on how you frame it. In your opinion or experience, what’s the first thing people should do when they first realize they are in a crisis situation? What should they do next?

The first thing that you should do when you realize that you are in a crisis situation is take a pause, or how we say in the Army “take a knee and face out”. Don’t try to solve every problem immediately, but instead, assess the situation. As you take it all in, make a list of your priorities and then start by knocking down all the low hanging fruit. I always tell our team that we aren’t in a battle getting shot at, and that things could actually be much worse. Having a bad day in business isn’t fun, but it’s not the end of the world. Stay calm, focus and then execute.

What do you believe are the characteristics or traits needed to survive a crisis?

I believe the characteristics needed to survive a crisis are resourcefulness, motivation and positivity. You must be able to get the Mike Tyson punch in the face and still be able to think quickly, adapt and then lean forward and fight hard. I would also say people who set goals and achieve them will work well in crisis scenarios.

When you think of those traits, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?

When I think about those traits, a man named Rex Kurzius comes to mind. Rex has always been the person I go to when I’m experiencing uncertainty about my next steps. He is always so motivating and encourages me to focus on the process, not the prize. He reminds me that it’s not always about the sales. It’s about the grind. His biggest advice is to get out there and make things happen. By focusing on the grind, the end prize will happen on its own.

Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?

In 2008, I lost my leg to sniper fire during a battle overseas. I remember waking up in an unfamiliar hospital room, a place that I would end up calling home for several weeks, and feeling a wave of sadness and uncertainty wash over me. Knowing that my life had permanently changed was a tough pill to swallow. This was not the life I imagined for myself, but I knew that I couldn’t give up. I was alive, and many of my brothers in arms were not so lucky. The most significant thing I realized during my recovery was the importance of learning the line between motivation and reality. In today’s society, we always tell people that “can’t” isn’t a word, but the reality is that there are actually things that I can’t do with only one leg. The “can’t’s” in life can wear you down if you let them, which is why it is so important to focus on what you CAN do. I’m never going to be able to walk without assistance, but I can run a marathon with my prosthetic leg. I’m never going to be back in the battlefield as a US solider, but I can become the first amputee ever to become a Green Beret Sniper. Once I learned that lesson, I was able to see all the amazing possibilities that my life held, instead of wishing things would go back to the way they were before.

Ok. We are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I would want to bring out the feeling that we are all in this together. We live in a great country with great opportunity, and we have many men and women out there fighting to allow us to have the opportunities that we do. Let us all focus on what unties instead of divides. The people inside this country are what make it the best nation on the planet.

Is there a person in the world with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

I would say my wife. She is the “Green Berets” of moms and homeschools our four kids with very busy schedules. I am truly grateful for her and to have breakfast or lunch by ourselves would be an amazing treat.

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