A Mother’s Courage

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Sonia
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My name is Sonia Alvarado and I am the senior pastor at Bethel Wesley United Methodist Church in Moline. My son Sgt. Luis Alvarado was injured on

Nov. 14, 2011 as he was serving in Afghanistan. He has been in the hospital since Nov. 17 when he arrived from Afghanistan to San Antonio, TX. Then in May of this year he was transferred to James Haley Hospital in Tampa, Florida. He is over there right now doing some neurological rehab… He was injured and he lost both legs and mostly his back was destroyed with the blast.

I came to the United States before Julio my husband did, I came in 1979. My parents were already living in Chicago. Julio came two years later in 1981 and actually we met in Chicago. We started working at the same church where my father was the pastor- Bethany United Methodist Church in Chicago. We met and two years later we decided to get married. We lived in Chicago for almost 11 years. We have a son and a daughter. Then we moved to Wisconsin

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I had my family planned since I was 12 years old. I knew that I wanted to have a daughter and a son in that specific order- girl first and then boy. We were blessed by having our daughter first and her name is Mariana Stobo. Then Luis came two years later. The kids get along very well. They played together. They took care of each other. One of the things that my husband and I agreed is that we were going to have kids early enough so we would be young enough to take care of them and be able to provide for them. I had my daughter when I was 21 and my son when I turned 23. I was a young mother, which made it a lot easier taking care of them when they were growing up. Now that they are older we still get along well. We are more than just parents. I think that we are really good friends.

Luis was a funny kid. He has a wonderful sense of humor, a really good outlook at life. He was the kind of person who always believed that things happen and you need to deal with the issues and then move on. He’s a really good kid. He has a big heart and he always treated people with kindness, dignity and respect and that’s one of the reasons why his soldiers really love him. They consider him not only a good commander, but also a good friend because of the way he treated them.

This is something that he always wanted to do. Actually he started talking about joining the army when he was 11 years old. At that time my husband and I would just figure, ah it’s a fascination- every kid likes to play with guns and all those things.

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After 9/11 he said to us, ‘I have to join the army. I need to do this.’ And so for me, it was more than desire. I think that that became his calling, to be able to join the army and to be able fight for freedom and to be able to do something for his nation.

During his first tour, he was in Iraq. It was scary because he has never been in the middle of so much fighting and so much hatred. He never wanted to worry us, and so all his communications were, ‘I’m ok, don’t worry about it.

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He would tell us, ‘Today we went out and there were lots of kids around us and so we shared candy with them.’ His soldiers confirmed that. They told me that every time they went out, his pockets were full of m&m’s or full of twislers, or skittles and so he would start sharing with the kids and so that was a good things that he was able to bring a smile to the faces of the kids.

In the field he was kind with the local people and treated his soldiers with respect and always did his work to the best of his abilities.

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The call

We were in Chicago when we got the call. We were staying with my sister that weekend, because my husband was scheduled to leave for Guatemala that morning. On Sunday night we came to stay with my sister so it was closer for me to take Julio to the airport. At 5 o’clock in the morning, we got the phone call. They told us that it was accident, that Luis got injured, but couldn’t tell us anything else. So as the commander from Alaska is telling us all this, I started asking him questions like, ‘Is he alive?’ He was just going on and telling us, well this happened, he stepped on a mine and I said ‘I don’t care about those things, I just want to know, is he alive?’ He said yes, yes he is alive. We don’t know the extent of his injuries at this point, so get ready because most probably you’re going to end up coming to Germany. We hung up and my husband and I decided to come back home and get ready. My sister and my brother-in-law, they just couldn’t believe that this happened. We packed our things and came back home.

We got the orders to leave and to go to Germany and so immediately we left and we were able to be there a few hours after he arrived in Germany.

It was shocking to see him with all the tubes coming out of his body. Of course, we were not able to see the extent of his injuries at that point.

The doctors, they kept telling us, you need to get ready; he’s probably not going to make it. We looked at him and we said you don’t know him. You don’t know the strength of my son.

You do what you need to do and let Louie do what he needs to do and so they told us that he was going to be there for 3 days and that they were going to fly him to the states. He was scheduled to come to Walter Reed, but then the day of the flight, the flight surgeon changed his orders saying, no we’re taking him to Texas. Texas has the best hospital for the type of injuries that he has. So they rerouted the flight from Walter Reed to Texas for Louie and another soldier, there were two of them that were critical, so they dropped both of them in Texas and continued their flight to Walter Reed the next morning.

In the process of doing all this, we just kept praying and asking the church and friends and family to pray, but we always knew that this kid was strong enough and that he was going to make it.

What we were told is that they were on patrol, on foot, and they were going through a location that wasn’t clear yet, that wasn’t swept yet. Luis sent some of the soldiers through another route that was safe. He and another soldier decided to go the other way so they can begin clearing up that route. From what we understand, he stepped on the mine, but underneath that one, there was another bigger mine. So when he stepped, the pressure detonated the 20 pounds of explosive underneath the initial one. The crater that it created was about the size of a full couch, 6 feet deep. The blessing is that he was the only one that was injured, and I say blessing not for him so much, but for the other soldiers. According to the doctors, the only reason he survived that explosion was because of his size and his strength. He was a very healthy kid and he always believed in exercising and lifting weights and so he was really strong.

So, that’s the extent of our knowledge. I’m still waiting for an official report. We have requested it, so we’ll see if we ever get it.

The most difficult thing for us has been not being able to get clear answers. We would like to find out why and so we’ve been asking, not only to god, but also to the army officials, what happened? What went wrong? Because I know that they have protocols, they have things that they have to follow, so something went wrong somewhere. We haven’t been able to get clear answers so that’s the frustrating part.

We also keep reminding him that the legs were just part of him, they were not who he is, that the person that he is, is still there. He just needs to wait. The legs never defined him- he defined the legs. So, he’s going to be able to get his legs in a whole different way. Never the less, they’re going to be legs and you’re going to be able to run, you’re going to be able to walk, you’re going to be able to do all the things… You know that we’re going to be here with you and for you and we’re never going to let you give up on yourself and so the fight continues. It will continue until the day that he’s ready to say ok mom, thank you, I’m ok, and you can go and live your life now. Just leave me alone.

Everyday is a day of celebration. As I told the people in the church, I never realized what a gift life is, until after this accident. Now everyday, we celebrate the gift of life. It helps you to see life in a whole different way.

The joy is being able to see his soldiers coming to visit with him and sharing stories about him. Three soldiers came to visit when he was in San Antonio. They told us that the reason that they are alive today is because of my son had saved their lives. Hearing story after story after story of how he put his own life in danger repeatedly in order for the soldiers to be able to come home and be able to be safe is a joy for me as a mother. It’s moment of feeling proud for my son.

They told us that another soldier was wounded maybe a month before my son was wounded. The chopper was not able to land because they were under fire and so my son singlehandedly started protecting the chopper and started returning fire and he was able to secure the landing. He was able to pull the other soldier into the chopper and so the soldier was able to be evacuated and brought back to the states. The soldier came to visit when my son he was awarded the Purple Heart and he was telling us the story. He was telling us this story and he said as a mother, you need to be very proud of your son. I said I am. It’s good to know, because he never told me any of those stories. He never said anything to me, otherwise, I would have said, ok you’re coming home now

Those moments are moments that make all this darkness a little bearable. There was a purpose, a reason for him to be there at that particular time to be able to provide safety and security for these other soldiers.

He was awarded the Purple Heart and also the Bronze Star. We’re waiting for the Silver Star. I think that those medals really represent the courage and the unselfishness of my son to be able to put his own life on the line to give life to others and so that makes him a hero in my eyes.

Today

Today November 14, 2012 we’re celebrating 1 year of him being alive and staying with us. That’s the strength of this kid.

We just couldn’t believe it. Sometimes, even now, we still feel like this is a whole nightmare. It was hard to believe that Louie would be involved in something like this especially because this was his third tour of duty and he was able to come back safe the last two. When he went to Afghanistan, he was in one of the safest places, quote unquote. So we never imagined in our wildest dreams that we were going through this. We kept saying to each other, this is a nightmare; we’re just going to wake up one of these days. Unfortunately it wasn’t a nightmare.

It’s amazing to know that we have so many caring and loving people, that in the midst of all this evil that goes around the world, there’s still a lot of good people who care and good people that are willing to reach out and offer help and I think that that makes this world a better place. It’s really sad that some people choose hatred over goodness, but what can we do? We just pray for them, that God will help them find a reason to put aside their hatred and try to live in peace with others.

As a pastor and as a person who believes in the power of prayer, it makes me realize that we have to pray for our world. There are a lot of people who need the help of god, if not my god, some other god that they believe in, but they have to find a way to try to live in peace and try to make this world a better place for everybody. So we pray for them. The hatred that I was feeling at the beginning against the people who did this to my son, has changed now. It’s not hate anymore, it’s pity. So instead of wishing them evil, we’re beginning to pray for them and asking god to have mercy on them and asking god to change their hearts and their minds. To let them know in the future, that all the evil that they have caused hasn’t been enough to destroy our faith in god and our faith in humanity because we know that there’s still some really good people out there.

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