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Eric Alva: Now is the time to end "don’t ask, don’t tell"
QSanAntonio.com, July 9, 2009

On July 8, retired Marine Staff Sergeant Eric Alva of San Antonio joined U.S. Representative Patrick Murphy (D-PA), representatives from the Human Rights Campaign and Servicemembers United to launch "Voices of Honor: A Generation Under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell."

The national tour highlights the discriminatory law that hurts military readiness and national security while putting American soldiers fighting overseas at risk. Following are Alva's comments made at the Washington, DC press conference.

Good morning ladies and gentleman thank you for being here. My name is retired Marine Staff Sergeant Eric Alva.

Six years ago, on March 21, 2003, I was part of a logistical convoy with 3rd Battalion, 7th Marines. My unit was part of the first wave of ground troops that entered the country of Iraq from Kuwait to start the ground invasion of Operation Iraqi Freedom. I had been in Iraq no more than three hours, when I stepped on a landmine near the city of Basra suffering life threatening injuries. I had a broken left leg, a broken right arm with severe nerve damage, and a badly injured right leg that doctors had to amputate in order to save my life. I had become the first American service member to be injured in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

It was not until February 28, 2007, that I announced not only to the people of the United States, but to the rest of the world that the first American injured in the Iraq war was a gay Marine. I had decided to be true to myself and my country by coming forward and announcing who I am. My coming forward was to tell the citizens of this country, that as a patriotic American when I went to fight the war on terrorism it was for the rights and freedoms of every single person in the United States, not just selected individuals. That means every single individual regardless of who they are.

I stand here today on two good legs again, with my fellow service members, and a courageous Congressman, Patrick Murphy, to show my support for HR 1283 the Military Readiness Enhancement Act. It is time to let people be judged for their merit, professionalism and their leadership. This is a time that we should not be firing anyone from their job in the United States Armed Forces solely for being gay. One year ago we celebrated the 60 year anniversary of the desegregation of our Armed Forces. At the time, people said it would not work. They were wrong. Now we are facing a similar debate with the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. We need to end this discrimination in the United States once and for all, and be true to what we mean when we state "with liberty and justice for all."

Just this past weekend, we celebrated 233 years of this country’s independence. As a gay man, a retired decorated Marine, a husband to my partner Darrell, and as an American citizen, when will individuals such as myself, have their full independence? I say the time is now, let people serve their nation, let people live where they want, love who they want, and give them their full independence as it should be when we celebrate this country’s freedom.

QSanAntonio exclusive -- Interview with Eric Alva
The first U.S. soldier wounded in the Iraq War

By Toby Johnson, QSanAntonio, March 9, 2007

Toby Johnson: Eric, in 2003 you were hailed as an American hero. Now you've made the news again, this time as a spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign. I'm sure fellow gay San Antonians are proud of you and are interested in how you're faring with your injuries.

Eric Alva: I was a marathon runner back in 1995. But my left leg was broken badly in the explosion and has never been the same since. So, even though I have a running prosthesis, I’ve retired from that sport and taken up swimming. I’m an avid scuba diver now.

Coming home to San Antonio was a blessing. The city welcomed me home with open arms. And now for a second time, they are doing it again it seems.

TJ: Do you have any memories of growing up in San Antonio?

EA: I actually grew up out by 1604 and Hwy 90, and attended Southwest High School. In the 1980's there was nothing out that way, and look at it now. Every time I came home to visit there was something new. Amazing how this city has grown. They were working on the freeways back then too (laughing).

TJ: What inspired you to join the Marines?

EA: My grandfather was a WWII veteran and my dad a Vietnam veteran. I always knew I wanted to follow in their footsteps. After high school though I was told to go to college. I did and it did not work out. All along I knew I wanted a career in the Marine Corps. So in 1990, I was the first of my family to join the Corps. Most of my family had been Army or Navy. Guess I had to be different (grinning).

TJ: I guess you were different! Did you know you were gay when you joined?

EA: I had an idea, but it was something I was not acting on at the time because getting into the military was my priority. It definitely was something I discovered in the military. I was growing in age and maturity, at the same time I was lonely, and I realized what was missing was me enjoying the life as a gay man.

I started to go to gay clubs in San Diego and I observed all the short haircuts like mine there. I knew then there were people like me in the military. I even had the opportunity to form some friendships. You kind of knew who was gay because they possessed the same traits as you. For example always going to gatherings alone, never talking about women, just sending those signals.

TJ: Do you think your gayness had any influence in your acting heroically?

EA: My being gay was a personal characteristic of who I was. The decorated service I preformed for 13 years was also a part of who I was. I was like any other person serving his or her country, and doing the best job possible. It did not matter if I was gay or straight, I was serving proudly.

TJ: Are gay soldiers problems in the service? Or good examples of generous, well-behaved, right-minded soldiers?

EA: Most people have focused on the idea that gay men and women would affect unit cohesion or disrupt the discipline of the Armed Forces, but I strongly disagree. People thought the same thing when black troops were integrated with white troops, but the military went on to function well.

How ironic it is that the one organization that protects the blanket of freedom for all the rights and privileges in this country is the first to discriminate against American men and women just for being gay. Gay men and women have served this country for hundreds of years, and now is the time to let them be judged for who they are—strong men and women who are willing to sacrifice everything. I applaud them everyday.

I want to thank the Human Rights Campaign for giving me this opportunity to tell my story, and I want to thank the city of San Antonio for welcoming me home a second time. Coming home from Washington D.C. last week, to all the positive responses, has made me more grateful and blessed to be alive. I especially want to thank my partner Darrell. He was the true foundation of what has started to be a positive journey, not just for the GLBT community but all people who are oppressed in this world.

(Toby Johnson’s most recent book, "Charmed Lives: Gay Spirit in Storytelling," which includes three stories by San Antonio writers, has been nominated for a Lambda Literary Award.)