SMSgt Israel Del Toro shares motivational testimony of resiliency and survivability

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Eric Amidon
  • Headquarters Readiness and Integration Organization

Headquarters Readiness and Integration Organization hosted Senior Master Sgt. Israel Del Toro, 98th Flying Training Squadron accelerated free-fall training program superintendent, for a motivational speaking engagement covering resiliency and survivability at Buckley Air Force Base, Colo., Dec. 20, 2018.

Del Toro, the first 100 percent combat-disabled Air Force technician to re-enlist in the military, was severely wounded in 2005 while deployed to Afghanistan after his team’s Humvee triggered an improvised explosive device (IED).

As he began his speech, Del Toro reminisced how people would always ask him how he became the person he is today and how could he have his “never quit,” resilient attitude after what he’s been through.

“I always contribute it to the death of my Dad,” said Del Toro. “I was the last one to speak to my Dad before he passed away and the last thing he said to me was, ‘Promise to always take care of your family’.”

Though he said he didn’t fully understand it that day, he promised his Father that he would. Over the years, the philosophy of taking care of his family evolved to include his brothers and sisters-in-arms, “because we’re all a family in the military.”

He continued describing to an awestruck audience how he remembers that day he was hit and being on fire “from head to toe” as he exited the vehicle. Tripping and falling, he tried to make his way to a nearby stream in hopes of extinguishing the blaze that would severely damage over 80 percent of his body.

“People had always talked about how when you get in a situation like that your life flashes in front of you,” said Del Toro. “I never really believed that, but when I got hit, all these little images started popping into my head.”

Three distinct images appeared in his mind’s eye. The first, an image of him and his wife as they made plans to finally be married at a church. The second, an image of their plans to honeymoon in Greece and the last one of him teaching his son to play ball.

Laying there he said he thought to himself that he had broken his promise to his Dad and his promise to his family to always come back.

Then he said one of his teammates picked him up and jumped in the creek with him to extinguish the flames now engulfing both of them.

As a medic was taking care of him he recalls saying that he was hurt but okay and that he needed to take care of his gunner who had had his legs crushed by their vehicle.

“He needs more help than I do.” Del Toro said.

Even while severely wounded, Del Toro continued to exemplify “Service before Self” as all he could think about was taking care of his teammates, or as he put it…”his family.”

He described how he had to give another service member every command they needed to repeat over the radio to guide air support to their position before he started feeling the effects of his wounds.

Del Toro said he was not ashamed to admit it but as breathing became harder for him, he started to become fearful.

He said he started to long for sleep but with the help and encouragement from his medic, he concentrated on his family and his son so he could stay awake.

“He knew if he let me fall asleep, I’m most likely not going to wake up again,” he said. “My son is my spark so he kept telling me to think about him and to keep fighting for him.”

Del Toro remembers his medical evacuation flight landing at the forward operating base, going through a field hospital where he saw some of his other teammates and the doctor cutting off his wristwatch while telling him he was going to be okay.

From there, the next thing he remembered was waking up from a coma at Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio.

Del Toro then shifted his focus to the resiliency of those families with wounded or deceased family members returning from the fight overseas.

He spoke of the many hardships spouses and family members back home must endure after that first ominous phone call. His wife in particular had returned to Mexico, where they had met, to stay with family members during his deployment and her visa expired.

She struggled through red-tape and constant barriers that possibly could have prevented her and their son from being there when he arrived at the medical center. Through the dedicated support of his teammates back home his family was able to be there the day of his arrival.

It was then he said that his wife learned of the extent of his injuries and that he was being given a 15 percent chance of survival.

But survive he did and with the support of family, teammates and his steadfast determination, Del Toro fought hard to recover from his injuries. He left the medical center a full 22 months ahead of when doctors first projected he might be well enough to leave.

In conclusion, Del Toro spoke of how during his recovery he had so much support from his family, leadership and his teammates who “had his back.” Through it all he said he has had many opportunities to engage Airmen and try and find that “spark” that motivates them to keep them pushing forward.

“Because it all comes back down to those words my Dad told me,” said Del Toro. “Take care of your family.”

Del Toro said that he’s a realist and knows he won’t be able to reach everyone out there. But if he can touch those one or two individuals that need it most, then all of the pain and suffering he has endured will have been worth it.