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Wounded warrior rejoins 342nd TRS as instructor
Tech. Sgt. Israel Del Toro (center) leads a class of Tactical Air Control Party students in teamwork exercises Dec. 16 at the Lackland Training Annex. (U.S. Air Force photo/Antonio Morano)
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Wounded warrior rejoins 342nd TRS as instructor

Posted 2/10/2011   Updated 2/10/2011 Email story   Print story

    


by Patrick Desmond
502nd Air Base Wing OL-A Public Affairs


2/10/2011 - LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- An advent four years in the making, Tech. Sgt. Israel Del Toro has returned to the 342nd Training Squadron as a Tactical Air Control Party instructor.

Sergeant Del Toro was severely burned over 80 percent of his body by an improvised explosion device in Afghanistan more than five years ago. He has consistently exceeded his prognosis in recovering to become the first 100 percent combat disabled Air Force technician to re-enlist.

But he's not done.

Sergeant Del Toro recently completed the prerequisite intervention training for his new role as an instructor, returning him to the unit he loves.

"It's great to be back," the 14-year veteran said. "For those four years, it was hard trying to get better, but the camaraderie was something I missed the most."

Joined by fellow TACP instructors, Sergeant Del Toro introduced younger Airmen to the rigors of their career field and becoming a Joint Terminal Attack Controller or Air Liaison Officer in December during his first course as an instructor.

The students adapted to the demanding physical activity, team building exercises and a problem-solving process that will later become instinct to the front-line Warrior Airmen.

Sergeant Del Toro said there is a definite transition from experiencing combat firsthand to stepping back and teaching from that experience.

"It's always different, compared to when you were outside the wire. It's more about safety for the Airmen here. They don't have the experience you have," he said, adding that instructors can't be too demanding right away, "but have to build them up first."

He uses his own combat story as a reference point to "never give up."

"Even though I was hurt, I still called in air support ..." the sergeant said about his last time in combat action. "It's about not giving up in your head.

"And that's what this course is all about. If you have a guy freaking out here, how's he going to react with bullets flying over his head?"

Despite the attention of national media and experiences such as shaking hands with the Commander-in-Chief, Sergeant Del Toro insists he's just like other members of the 342nd TRS.

"I'm just trying to be another Airman, just another instructor teaching his students. Each instructor has his own circumstance," he said.

Even still, to the TACP course students, he resembles something more. For Airmen who want to serve their country in combat situations, his presence and experience is invaluable.

To Airman Luke Bates, Sergeant Del Toro is the image of persistence; for 2nd Lt. Houston Nelson, it was an elaboration during a pivotal moment in the five days of training. Lieutenant Nelson said it helped to have the sergeant there, particularly on a day he and his peers struggled through 14 exercises - real-world strength workouts, 400-meter sprint intervals, and a two-mile rucksack march.

"You look up and see him and you know the pain you're going through is no match for the pain he sacrificed for his country," the lieutenant said.

Sergeant Del Toro said by now, since everywhere he goes people want to hear his story, he's used to the attention and speaking to large crowds.

The hardest task, he said, is convincing his son, Israel III, that he's not a celebrity. "No, Dad's not famous," he tells his namesake.

Sergeant Del Toro is spending six weeks at the Robert Gaylor NCO Academy before resuming his role as a 342nd TRS instructor in February.

Every step pushes him closer to his goal: returning to operational status.



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