Severely Burned USAF Sergeant Re-Enlists After IED Blast

Air Force Tech. Sgt. Israel Del Toro Jr.

When Air Force recruits look at Tech. Sgt. Israel Del Toro's battle-scarred body, they know they will be listening to the voice of hard won experience.

Severely burned over more than 80 percent of his body in an IED explosion in Afghanistan, Del Toro has spent the last four years convincing the U.S. Air Force to allow him to re-enlist.

This week, he again reported for duty, proud to be the first 100 percent combat disabled Air Force technician to re-enlist.

VIDEO: Sgt. Israel Del Toro is back on duty after being told hed never walk again.
Burned Air Force Sgt. Israel Del Toro Returns to Duty

"I had to fight them. I had a lot of people behind me, supporting me," Del Toro said. "From day one, everyone knew I wanted to stay in. I never changed my mind."

He had plenty of reasons to change his mind.

Assigned to an Army unit to call in airstrikes in a remote part of Afghanistan, Del Toro had followed the instructions of an Army lieutenant hoping to ambush Afghan insurgents when their Humvee rolled over the roadside bomb Dec. 4, 2005.

Jumping out of the truck, in flames from head to toe, Del Toro said he thought to himself, "I'm going to die here. I'm never going to see my wife and son again."

After being led by the lieutenant to jump in the creek to douse the blaze, Del Toro said he laid on the ground and said simply, "That sucked."

Airlifted to the closest military hospital in Afghanistan, Del Toro -- "DT" to his buddies -- kept conscious by thinking of his 2-year-old son and namesake. He remembered the doctor cutting his watch off his wrist -- and nothing else until he came out of his coma at Brooke Army Medical Center three months later.

Told he had nearly died three times and that he would likely never walk again or breathe without the use of a respirator, Del Toro was devastated. And angry.

"Pretty much, I kind of felt they could go to hell," he said.

Instead, he embarked on a four-year mission to prove to his superiors that he could still serve his country. He was out of the hospital in less than three months and began campaigning for re-enlistment.

"I love my job," he said. "I love what I do."

His wife, Carmen Del Toro, said she's thrilled her husband's years of grueling determination paid off.

"He doesn't look the same, but it doesn't matter. I'm so happy for him," she said. "It's time for him to keep going."

Commander: Injured USAF Sergeant Is 'Blazing New Ground'

Del Toro lost all of the fingers on his left hand except for his thumb and had the fingers on his right hand amputated at the knuckles. He suffered inhalation burns and has survived more than 120 surgeries with more to come.

His re-enlistment fell under the Air Force's limited assignment status provision, which was tweaked in 2008 to allow more severely wounded airmen to return to the job if they are able.

USAF Personnel Center spokesman Kenny Pruitt told that, of five 100 percent disabled airmen who were eligible to reapply for enlistment under the new guidelines, Del Toro is the only one who took the opportunity.

"I will never be able to deploy. Which kind of sucks. I wish I could," Del Toro said. His injuries also prevent him from being stationed at overseas bases.

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