It’s a rare and special thing to serve in the military. Those who do so, who risk their lives and their bodies to protect their country and the people who live there, are to be respected and honored for their service.
Sergeant Israel Del Toro was one of these men. He was strong, courageous, and had put his life on hold to serve his country. Then, while serving in Afghanistan, an event occurred which changed his life forever…
The year was 2005, and Sergeant Israel Del Toro was serving with the United States Air Force in Afghanistan. Like many of his fellow soldiers, Del Toro had been stationed in this unforgiving terrain for far too long. But he knew his duty and he knew that as long as he served with honor and distinction, he’d eventually earn some time home to see his wife and son.
Injured in the Field
On the day in question, Srgt. Del Toro was following routine orders to drive out past the perimeter of the base when his Humvee rolled over a buried pressure-plate mine. In an instant, and before he could do a thing, the bomb went off and the ensuing explosion engulfed the entire vehicle, with Del Toro still inside…
Covered in Flames
Del Toro dashed from the truck but was covered in flames from head to toe. If he didn’t do something to put out the fire quick, he was sure to perish. As he rolled around on the ground, he thought to himself, “I’m going to die here. I’m never going to see my wife and son again.”
He was rescued just in the nick of time but had suffered extensive damage. Del Toro lost many of his fingers, and a whopping 80% of his face and body were covered in third-degree burns. The medics on the base were not confident in his recovery, he had suffered too much damage. They gave him a 15% chance of survival…
Del Toro fell into a coma soon after the accident, which was for the best anyway. With that many third-degree burns, the sergeant would have been in excruciating, unbearable pain every moment he was awake. When he did wake up three weeks later, he was told he’d likely never be able to walk again or even breathe without the help of a respirator.
Hundreds of Surgeries
Doctors performed over 100 surgeries on the wounded soldier to try and make his life easier. In truth though, Israel Del Toro had never been one to give up easily. He didn’t care about the odds, he cared about persevering, about healing and living his life on his own terms. What followed was an astonishing recovery…
Del Toro’s wife, Carmen, along with his son, inspired him to persevere all the way through his recovery. At his darkest hour and despite the many obstacles in front of him, he remained determined to push on. He even vowed that one day he’d return to active duty.
Finally, in May 2006, less than a year after the accident, Del Toro made a recovery. He was not only breathing on his own, but was walking under his own steam as well. Later that year, he walked on stage and accepted his well-earned Purple Heart for bravery. But these small steps to the podium were merely the beginning…
As part of his rehabilitation, Del Toro was introduced to a number of adaptive sports. His therapists told him that they would prove to be not only a therapeutic outlet but also a fun distraction. As with most things in his life, Del Toro quickly began excelling at things like the shot put, discus, and javelin.
In 2016, President George W. Bush paid tribute to Del Toro and his recovery at the opening ceremonies of the Invictus Games. The games are a multi-sport event in which wounded or sick servicemen and women compete and take part in friendly competition against one another. Nearly 500 athletes from 14 different countries took part and Del Toro was one of them…
The Invictus Games typically run over a course of four days and Del Toro competed in many of them. Not only did he place in several of the events, he proved to the world that he could still be the man he was, despite his injuries. He took home the silver in 2014 for powerlifting and the gold in shot put in 2016.
His desire to prove that those with disabilities can do anything they put their minds to has seen him enter many other competitions for things like powerlifting. He’s even a member of the World Class Athlete program and is training for the 2017 Warrior Games. Yet there were still other challenges for him to overcome…
Del Toro had promised himself that once he was better he would re-enlist in the military. There was just one problem with that, he was declared 100 percent combat-disabled after his accident. It was going to take a hell of a lot of convincing to get the Air Force to let him back in, even after having proven himself more than capable.
The injured veteran had so much support behind him and so much to his credit that he was able to convince them to let him back in. Today, Del Toro is the first 100 percent combat-disabled Air Force technician to re-enlist and he currently works as a terminal attack controller instructor. Not long after, he received further recognition for his service…
Service Before Self
In 2017, Del Toro was presented with the Pat Tillman award by Daily Show host Jon Stewart. The award is given to soldiers whose actions on behalf of their country goes far beyond simply serving but in putting their Service Before Self. Del Toro felt an enormous swell of pride for having been placed in the same category of such a hero like Pat Tillman.
In 2002, Pat Tillman, put his promising NFL career with the Arizona Cardinals on hold in order to serve his country after the devastating terrorist attacks on 911. He served on the 75th Ranger Regiment for two years before being killed by friendly fire while serving with the in Afghanistan…
The Pat Tillman Foundation was created by Pat’s parents to honor his legacy of leadership and service. Over the years, the foundation has invested millions in military veterans and their spouses by creating academic scholarships and by granting awards to other veterans who have earned similar levels of distinction for their accomplishments.
What he Represents
Marie Tillman, who is the chair and co-founder of the foundation, spoke highly of Del Toro. “As an Airman and athlete, Israel embodies the same spirit of service, leading by example and motivating those around him to beat the odds. He has refused to let his disabilities conquer his competitive spirit or hinder his determination to give back.”
Other winners and honorees of the Pat Tillman Award include U.S. Paralympic gold medal sled hockey player and Purple Heart recipient Josh Sweeney, former Notre Dame basketball player, Iraq war veteran and Purple Heart recipient Danielle Green, and world-class Paraswimmer and Iraq war veteran Sgt. Elizabeth Marks.
Israel Del Toro represents what can happen when someone continues to push themselves past their limitations and injuries to accomplish the impossible. He truly is a hero that Americans and soldiers all over the world can look up to. Recently, he achieved yet another personal goal by parachuting for the first time since the accident.