1st injured soldier to join peace activist on stage
Eric Alva, the first U.S. soldier injured in the Iraq War, will be a featured speaker at Dallas’ Black Tie Dinner, co-chair Deiadra Burns announced this week. He joins actor and activist Martin Sheen, announced earlier this summer as keynote speaker for the Nov. 17 fundraiser, in the 2007 Black Tie lineup.
Alva, 36, will also be a special guest at the Gardere B4 Black Silent Auction Preview Party on the night before the dinner.
Roger Wedell, executive director of the North Texas Legal Hospce, has been named as the 2007 Kuchling Humanitarian Award. Black Tie officials have not yet announced the winner of this year’s Elizabeth Birch Award.
“As a Purple Heart veteran, a Texan and a partner with HRC against “‘Don’t ask don’t tell,’ Eric Alva is a great addition to the stellar line-up at this year’s Black Tie Dinner,” said Burns. “We are proud of Eric’s service to our nation and the manner in which he has conducted his life after that horrible incident. We are grateful that he will be able to join us and share his amazing story with our audience.”
Alva, a staff sergeant in the U.S. Marines, was in Iraq with his unit, the third Battalion 7th Marines, which was among the first American troops to cross the border from Kuwait into Iraq in March 2003. Three hours into the ground war, near the city of Basra, Alva’s unit stopped to rest. When he stepped out of his vehicle, Alva stepped directly onto a land mine.
The explosion, which threw him 15 feet from the vehicle, broke his left leg, tore open and severely damaged the nerves in his right arm, and injured his right leg so severely it later had to be amputated. The incident made Alva, who later came out as a gay man, the first American to be wounded in the Iraq war and the first in the war to receive a Purple Heart.
Randy Ray, Burns’ Black Tie co-chair, said Alva has served the U.S. “with honor and distinction, and that he has “shown immense integrity by sharing his story and reminding others that that every man and woman deserves the right to serve this great nation in our armed forces regardless of their sexual orientation.”
Alva is a native of San Antonio. He was sworn into the U.S. Marine Corps when he was 19.
Alva retired at the rank of staff sergeant after 13 years of service. He then went back to college to finish his degree and decided to come out as gay. He decided to speak out about his military service and the military’s anti-gay “Don’t ask, don’t tell policy” after Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, earlier this year stated that he supported the Pentagon’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy by saying homosexual acts “are immoral” and compared same-sex relationships to adulterous affairs with the spouse of another service member.
Alva is now the national spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign fight to repeal the military’s discriminatory policy. He is also part of the nationwide “Legacy of Service” tour, speaking out against “Don’t ask, don’t tell.”
Among Alva’s awards and recognitions for his service is the 2003 Heroes and Heritage Award from La Raza, the 2004 Hero’s Among Us award from People magazine, the 2004 Patriot Award from the city of San Antonio and the 2007 Public Citizen Award from the National Association of Social Workers.
He was a distance runner before his injury in Iraq and continues to run and ski with a prosthesis. Currently, Alva is studying social work at Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio, where he lives with his partner, Darrell, and their two dogs, Champ and Bo. He will graduate from college in 2008, and then hopes to pursue a career working with diverse groups and continuing to work for social justice.
For more information about the Black Tie Dinner or this year’s event, call 972.733.9200 or visit www.blacktie.org.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 27, 2007