100 percent disabled, 100 percent inspirational 

Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Israel Del Toro is a survivor.

Del Toro recounts his incredible story of survival and perseverance as this week’s special guest on The American Legion Tango Alpha Lima podcast.

In 2005, Del Toro was working as a Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, calling in airstrikes for an Army unit. On Dec. 4, his Humvee ran over an IED and he suffered severe burns on over 80 percent of his body. He was in a coma for about three months. Doctors gave him a 20% chance of survival.

Two months after emerging from the coma, Del Toro walked out of the hospital.

“I’m no hero, I just had to do what I did to get back to my family,” says Del Toro, who recently authored the book, “A Patriot’s Promise.” “For me, it’s weird. People call me inspirational or I’m motivational, or I’m a hero. No, it’s too weird. I’m DT, just a guy who likes to hang out with his friends, and play some ‘Call of Duty.’”

Del Toro, a Bronze Star recipient, credits his wife and caregivers for other wounded warriors for their unsung work on behalf of their loved ones. He also advocates for other Airmen who suffer serious injuries and has helped spearhead changes to improve their care.

“We always say the Air Force is the best at taking care of their people, but when it comes to our wounded warriors, we were just dead last,” he says. “A goal for those in a leadership role is to make things better for those who follow them even though they may never see the benefits. I never got to see the benefits that I was able to change.” 

Del Toro did endure numerous surgeries, skin grafts and physical therapy over a four-year battle in an effort to prove that he could still serve his country. His determination prevailed, and in 2010, he became the first fully disabled Airman to be permitted to re-enlist. Although disappointed that he would not be able to deploy, he immediately threw himself into the job of training others for the dangerous and critical job of being a JTAC.

Sports played a significant role in Del Toro’s path to recovery.

“Once things started settling down, I thought how much I liked playing sports,” he recalls. Soon enough he was hooked up with an adaptive sports program. “Can I get back there? I was kind of hesitant. But sports is a way you can get back into society.”

He credits The American Legion’s Operation Comfort Warriors program that provided equipment for adaptive sports at the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. 

“Once I am out there, shooting or cycling, everything around me is null and void,” he says. “I feel like me. I feel like my old self. It’s a great feeling. I was able to show that I am still here. I am still living.” 

When he has a bad day, he focuses on the little things. Walking his dog. Going to the gym. Messing around with the cars in his garage.

“It hurts every day,” he reflects. “But it’s the little things. You have to think about what brings joy to life and what keeps me going.”  

Also in this episode, co-hosts Stacy Pearsall and Joe Worley address:

• Pranks in the military.

• Food insecurity, which is more than 7% higher for veterans than civilians.

• A Bravo Zulu to American Legion Post 828 in Texas for its work supporting children and youth.  

Check out this week’s episode, which is among more than 230 Tango Alpha Lima podcasts available in both audio and video formats here. You can also download episodes on Apple Podcasts, Google Play or other major podcast-hosting sites. The video version is available at the Legion’s YouTube channel.