America’s First Wounded Iraq War Veteran Stands Tall

Jim Burroway

February 28th, 2007

Marine Staff Sgt. Eric AlvaMarine Staff Sgt. Eric Alva, became the first American to be injured during the invasion of Iraq when he stepped on a land mine and lost his leg in the explosion. As he was recovering at Bethesda Naval Hospital, he was visited by President George Bush, first lady Laura Bush, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. None of then knew that Staff Sgt. Alva was gay.

Things today are considerably different. Staff Sgt. Alva will stand alongside Rep. Marty Meehan (D-MA) as a bipartisan group of Congressional representatives introduce legislation to overturn “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”:

He imagines conversations with the political opponents he knows he will now face.

“‘OK buddy,'” he said, “‘you pick up a gun and you go fight in Iraq or Afghanistan for a while, then you could come back and we can have a talk because I’ve actually sacrificed, I’ve actually done duty and served in this country for your rights and freedom.'”

Even though Staff Sgt. Alva served under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, he felt comfortable enough around many of those he served with the share his life with them:

“I told tons of people,” he said, with a laugh. “A lot of my friends, my buddies, my closest Marines, people I had served in combat with. Straight guys, married, with children and everything, three of them which I have become their sons’ godfather now. Everybody was just respectful and was just like ordinary. ‘That’s it? That’s your big news?'”

The Government Accountability Office found in 2004 that of the 9,488 service members who had been discharged since 1993, approximately 757 “held critical occupations”, including 322 with “skills in an important language such as Arabic, Farsi or Korean.”

Critics argue that “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is necessary for “unit cohesion”, an argument that falls apart not only in Alva’s experience, but also according to a recent Zogby International poll of current and former military service members. This data shows that the current policy on gays and lesbians in the military not only harms military cohesion and unit effectiveness, it is also having a serious impact on our nation’s ability to attract and retain some of the most important skills this country needs right now.

Our soldiers, sailors and air personnel all deserve the best. Staff Sgt. Alva lost his leg and became the first American to be seriously wounded in Iraq. He has been recognized as a credit to the corps. He deserves no less than to have America stand beside him and everyone else who is serving our country and sacrificing so much.

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