Wife of severely burned Air Force sergeant: 'He's like Superman'
"This face is after a hundred-plus surgeries," said Air Force Master Sgt. Israel Del Toro.
Del Toro has come a long way since Dec. 4, 2005, when his Humvee rolled over a roadside bomb in Afghanistan.
"Just driving along and that's when I feel an intense heat blast on my left side," said Del Toro. "I was thinking to myself, 'Holy crap, I just got hit.'"
The blast burned 80 percent of his body. Remarkably, a creek was just a few feet away.
"I try to get to the creek but the flames overtook me and I collapsed there ... I'm thinking, 'I'm gonna die, I've broken my promise to my dad that I'd always take care of my family, broken my promise to my son that he won't grow up without his dad like I did, broken my promise to [my wife] Carmen saying I will always come back,'" said Del Toro. "I must have said I was going to die there and that's when one of the lieutenants said, 'You're not gonna die here DT,' and helps me up and we both jumped in the creek."
Determined to complete his mission as a joint terminal attack controller, or JTAC, he still managed to call in his airstrike coordinates. JTACs often have some of the most dangerous jobs.
When asked if he got his target that day, Del Toro replied, "I always get my target."
Del Toro says the last thing he remembers after he was hit was the doctor cutting off his watch and telling him he is going to be okay. Three months later, he woke up at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas.
Del Toro's wife, Carmen, stayed by his side with their 3-year-old son, Israel, thinking her husband would not live.
"I told my husband he was in a coma for three months; he doesn't remember anything," said Carmen Del Toro. "The person that was suffering the most was me ... he was fighting for his life, I also was fighting to survive."
Israel Del Toro said the only time he wanted to die was the first moment he saw his face in a mirror at the hospital.
"It wasn't a vanity thing, it was because at the time I was 30 years old, and if I thought I was a monster, what's my 3-year-old son going to think?"
But Del Toro quickly learned all little Israel wanted was his dad.
"[When I came home] he comes running out and stops and he stares, and I'm like, 'Oh crap he's scared, he's terrified of me' and then he just tilts his head and he's like, 'Papi?' and I'm like, 'Yeah buddy,' and he comes up and gives me the most amazing hug," Del Toro said. "It was the most amazing feeling I've ever had besides watching him being born."
Now, nearly 11 years later, the younger Israel says, "He's still just Dad."
The two spend a lot of time together sharing many laughs.
"He's getting old, Alzheimer's and all that, so I help him out," joked his son.
Teasing aside, the younger Del Toro says his father is an inspiration.
"If you're having a bad day, think about him. He got blown up, had over 100 surgeries, he was under fire and yet he pushed through."
"He's like superman," Carmen Del Toro said.
Now Del Toro spends much of his time with the U.S. Air Force Skydiving Team, Wings of Blue.
"It is a privilege to have him down here," said Cadet 1st Class Minje Kim. "The fact that he wants to come down here leaves me speechless ... it was always in his heart to serve and he gave up everything for that."
Del Toro's goal is to be medically cleared so he can jump with them.
"I'm not gonna let those SOBs who left that bomb by the road the satisfaction that they made me unhappy," Del Toro said, "I'm giving them the big middle finger which I can't do now."
Del Toro is the first 100 percent combat disabled Air Force member to re-enlist. He also is a motivational speaker and an athlete holding a world record in shot put, discus and javelin.