“We took care of the bad guys. I told everyone let’s go back. ... I thought I was fine. But the whole time I’m smoldering.”
When the convoy finally got to safety, Alvin got out. “I felt pain like I never felt before.”
He collapsed. He was in a medically induced coma when he was transported from Baghdad to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio. He would spend 2004 to 2006 recovering.
Healthy skin from his left side would be pulled off, then stapled to the right side of his body. His elbow would be broken and re-broken. He would not be able to talk because smoke inhalation had damaged his voice box. Doctors told him he might not walk again.
But Alvin’s family encouraged him. His mother, a speech pathologist, demanded that he talk instead of whisper, to exercise his vocal cords. His wife and father “literally held me up, putting their bodies under my shoulders, helping me take my first steps.”
By 2009, the night of the ball, Alvin was mostly healed. “It’s like a testimony. God can heal someone who got burned to the bone.”
In the ballroom that evening, Alvin, who was medically retired from the Army and now works as chief of the physical security division for Homeland Security, decided he wanted to be part of the change and use what God had healed to heal others.
“I think for me and my wife, we felt a change and we wanted to be part of it,” said Alvin, now 36. “At the ball, we were kind of on the outside looking in. It felt like we were playing a part.”
Alvin felt inspired to do something. “We didn’t know what it was,” he said, “but we wanted to keep that feeling going after the ball. ... I started thinking, ‘I’m better off than other individuals.’ ”
A few months later, the Army’s Wounded Warrior Program asked Alvin to talk to a crowd of federal employers and contract companies at Homeland Security. He shared the story of his recovery and the difficulties he faced finding a job. Then, someone asked him to speak at a Veterans Day event at Fort Belvoir. “It just snowballed. I never really said no. ... It’s every soldier’s story. A lot of other guys have seen a lot worse.”
He would go on to make dozens of speeches with the Wounded Warrior and Tempered Steel programs, in which wounded servicemen and servicewomen tell their stories of recovery. He would speak at schools, at hospitals and at private corporations, encouraging injured soldiers and urging companies to hire returning war veterans.
Retired Staff Sgt. Wesley Spaid, the soldier whose life Alvin saved in Iraq, has heard him speak to wounded veterans: “He shows there is a capability for someone who doesn’t think there is capability to progress in your life. It keeps their hopes alive.”