July 19, 2008 -- Eric Alva was hailed as a hero after the Marines staff sergeant became the first American injured in Iraq, but now he's in a battle with the military.
In March 2003, after just two months in the Middle East, he was traveling in a convoy with his battalion in Iraq when he stepped on a landmine, breaking his right arm and injuring his right leg so badly it needed to be amputated. Alva was awarded the Purple Heart and was honorably discharged from the military.
"The president and first lady hugged me and said bless you," Alva said.
Earlier this year, though, Alva announced he was gay and came out against one of the military's most controversial policies. He says the "don't ask, don't tell" policy needs to be overturned, and that rules should be adopted to protect homosexuals who serve in the military.
"There needs to be a change in the uniform code of military justice," said Alva.
Since the policy was adopted in 1993, 12,500 men and women have been dismissed from the military. The Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a gay, lesbian and bisexual advocacy group, says nearly 800 of those dismissed had skills the Pentagon deemed "mission critical."
A leading example of this are the 300 language experts that have been forced out including 85 Arabic linguists.
"I think over the years, people have begun to ask whether it really serves that purpose," Rep. Susan Davis, D-Calif. said.
It is estimated that the military has spent more than $360 million investigating allegations of homosexual conduct throughout all of the forces.
When former President Clinton announced the policy, he paid a heavy political price. Fifteen years later, the question is whether the military and the country are ready to revisit "don't ask, don't tell."
The two presumptive presidential candidates have different opinions on the issue.
Republican Sen. John McCain has said the policy is working and does not need to be changed.
Sen. Barack Obama, the likely Democratic candidate, has said he will reverse the policy when he becomes president.
A bipartisan study by retired military officers concluded that gays serving openly in the military would have little effect on a unit's ability to fight. But many soldiers disagree.
"When you undermined trust and confidence because of forced intimate situations where there's sexual tension, same-sex tension, then you really hurt the overall ability of an organization to function effectively," Army senior strategist Bob Maginnis said.
Alva said the U.S. military should accept him, just as many of his Marine colleagues have already accepted him.
"I'm a godfather to three Marine's kids," he said. "They accept me."
Alva is scheduled to testify before Congress next week on his experiences and his opinions regarding the current policy regarding homosexuals in the military.