by Randy Roughton
Air Force News Service
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Surrounded by his Air Force Warrior Games teammates, training to represent his service in archery, rifle shooting and sitting volleyball, Tech. Sgt. Alex Gaud-Torres feels like an Airman again.
Since his childhood in Puerto Rico, Gaud-Torres wanted to join the U.S. Air Force, a dream he realized when he enlisted after college in 1995. He arrived at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., after space and missile maintenance training on his 21st birthday. But after he was injured by a car bomb while manning a checkpoint in Iraq in 2005, Gaud-Torres’ feelings changed. He didn’t feel he deserved to be an Airman anymore.
“A fire has always burned within me to be an American Airman, but when you get injured, you start feeling down on yourself because you’re not the same person you were,” he said.
“I used to be in the honor guard. I used to be able to stand up for hours on end with a rifle or holding a casket, and I was a maintainer on 18-hour shifts in the frozen tundra fixing security systems or electronic equipment,” he continued. “I used to be able to do long-distance running and run forever. But I was thinking I didn’t deserve to be an Airman anymore. I’m not the person they need to represent the Air Force that I love so much.”
In 2005, then Staff Sgt. Gaud-Torres deployed from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., to Joint Base Balad as a third country national escort to assist the Army with inspecting personnel and vehicles and staffing checkpoints. In mid-April, he was among a group inspecting dump trucks for false compartments and weapons off base when a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device detonated. The attack left him with two fractured vertebrae, a bruised sternum and severe nerve damage on the right side of his body.
“All I remember was this rush of air on the back of my neck and then opening up my eyes and looking at the sky,” he said. “To this day, whenever I feel air on the back of my neck, it sends a chill down my spine.”
When the geospatial intelligence analyst went home a few weeks later, he began feeling pain in his right arm and shoulder, so much so that he was unable to render a salute to a lieutenant when he left his office building one afternoon. His arm wouldn’t move.
Surgeons found that two of his vertebrae were damaged, with a mass of recalcification. They inserted a titanium plate, and he had to regain his fine motor skills. His wife Alex helped in the months after his surgery by having him help her with her scrapbooking.
“I had my supplies out on the table, and I was aware of the problems he was having holding onto things, so I asked him if he wanted to sit and help me,” she said. “One day, I pulled out some pictures he emailed me from Iraq and asked if he wanted to tell his story of what he went through. He didn’t share his pain or any of his experiences. To this day, I don’t think I know everything.”
Gaud-Torres’ motor skills returned long before he confronted the emotional damage left by the attack, although his wife and their daughters were well aware something wasn’t right.
When his Wounded Warrior Program care manager told him about the Warrior Games, Gaud-Torres and his wife instantly knew it would be good for him.
“When I’m shooting, my coach says to empty everything that’s in my mind, to concentrate, aim and pull in the right direction, breathe and release,” Gaud-Torres said. “When I’m doing that, there’s nothing else in my head. It’s like I’m back before everything happened, before I even deployed. It’s so peaceful when I’m out there on the line. You don’t anticipate the shot. You just let it happen.”
What is most important is the feeling that he is an Airman again and has his Air Force family back, especially with his fellow wounded warriors.
(For the full story, visit www.ramstein.af.mil)