Disabled vet talks resilience
By Senior Airman Scott Saldukas , 47th Flying Training Wing Public Affairs
/ Published January 26, 2012
LAUGHLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- Roberto Barrera, a disabled Vietnam War veteran, spoke to a group of Laughlin Airmen here during a stand down day to focus on resilience and suicide awareness Jan. 24.
Barrera enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in February of 1969 before going to serve in Vietnam later that year. On Sept. 16, 1969, he was seriously burned after enemy forces detonated a 500-pound bomb beneath the armored vehicle he was in.
The explosion tore through his vehicle leaving him with more than 40 percent of his body burned with serious facial burns. Due to these injuries, Barrera lost his right hand at the wrist and his left arm at the shoulder.
"There were eight of us who all survived but ended up at the burn center," Barrera said. "It was at that point when I realized my life had changed completely, I had no direction and no desire to go on. I was in intensive care... I lost my right hand, I lost my left arm, my lip was gone, my ears were gone... that's when I decided I didn't want to live."
He explained how one day his father, a local police officer, came to visit him while he was in the intensive care unit.
"When he walked in this morning I asked him if he had his gun," he said. "He said yes then asked why. Then I told him I want you to shoot me. I said I want you to take my life, I can't go on like this."
He explained how that story helped him get through some of the toughest times he ever faced by reminding him of the support he had.
Barrera said support was one of the four S's of hope he lived by that helped him get through an unimaginable time. He said without the support of his family constantly by his side, he would not have been able to make it.
Housing a sense of humor was the second S, he said.
"In times when you have little hope, you need to know its ok to act silly and have some fun," the Del Rio native said. "Having a sense of humor makes it easier to cope with a crisis."
Barrera said the third S is to have a good spiritual relationship. He expressed the importance of faith and having a relationship with something higher that you believe in.
The final S is self, "you have to believe in yourself," he said.
While the day was intended to shine a light on resilience, Barrera short visit shared a life experience that will stay with a group of Airmen here for some time and focused on a cause that is invaluable.