Disabled Iraq veteran advocates for gays

Latin-American. Vertically challenged. Handicapped. Gay. All are terms former Marine Staff Sgt. Eric Alva used to describe himself when he spoke at Northern Kentucky University Nov. 7.

Alva was the first American to be injured in the second Iraq war. He remembers crossing the Kuwait border under the cover of darkness March 21, 2003, the first day of the war in Iraq.

While waiting at the Kuwait border for confirmation on when to move into Iraq, Alva got out of his

Humvee and stepped on a landmine, becoming the first victim of the Iraq War.

Alva remained conscious until he was anesthetized so that medical officials could perform surgery. When he woke up, Alva was stunned by what he found.

“All I saw on the right side was that the sheet was flat and I did what any person would do and I cried,” Alva said. He had lost his right index finger and right leg.

“I thought the only way I could be pain free would be to end my life so I started to hold my breath,” Alva said.

Nurses were alerted that Alva stopped breathing and were able to stabilize him again. Though the pain seemed unbearable, Alva realized that he was not meant to die, and began to hope for the future.

With Alva’s recovery came an interest in attending a university. Since joining the Marine Corp at 19, Alva had never pursued higher education beyond his experience at community college. He currently attends Our Lady of the Lake University in his hometown of San Antonio, Texas, and is studying social work. During his studies, he realized the chance he’d been given from the publicity to speak out againist an issue he disagreed with — Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.

This issue became his top priority for one simple reason: he had to live it. Because of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy, Alva felt he was forced to be dishonest about himself during his time in the Marines.

Alva’s main point was that gay men and women in the military are fighting for the rights of the country, yet unequally refused these same rights.

“This is unfair, I’m a U.S. Military member who fought and sacrificed for my country and I don’t have the same rights and freedoms as other citizens,” he said.

Alva spoke about going before Congress and telling his story in hopes that the law would change. He encouraged his listeners to speak out on the law, believing that awareness at the local level is also an integral part of change.

Will Jordan, a business administration major and member of Common Ground, was inspired by hearing Alva speak. “He fits all the profiles: Latin-American, gay, and disabled, and he’s fighting for our rights. It makes me want to do more,” he said.