Sergeant Eric Fidelis Alva gave a lecture on his life story on Wednesday Sept. 24, which marked the first lecture of the fall 2014 All-College Hour lecture series held in the College Union Ballroom. Alva began telling the story of his experience in the United States Marine Corps, including background information about his upbringing. Alva stressed the tough decision he had to make: enroll in college or join the military, while hiding the fact that he is a gay man. He chose the latter, though his mother warned him not to.
Alva found out after joining the Marines in June 1990 that he was going to be deployed to Somalia for Operation Hope. With a worried mother and a secret, Alva continued to reenlist for the military regardless of the mission.
During the fall of 2002, a year after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and after 12 years in service, Alva heard rumors about deployment to Iraq, but was deployed to Kuwait in Jan. 2003. About eight weeks later, he headed to Iraq.
“You can Google this or see it on Wikipedia, but Shock and Awe was the day U.S. forces and allies, when it got dark, started bombing [Iraq],” Alva said.
As of March 20 in Kuwait, tents were ripped down, bombs began to explode and missiles began to soar in Iraq marking the beginning of the war.
“I remember being woken up by the sound of thunder and, of course, that was the sound of the bombs,” Alva said.
It was then, after three hours, while trying to heat up a meal ready-to-eat when he walked and hit a landmine, causing an explosion, throwing him nearly five feet and causing him to pass out.
“I remember of course being thrown from here like five feet away knocked out, my hearing was gone,” he said. “And just to give you an example of what it was like, when you cover your ears, and you hear this huge ringing or in Hollywood movies and they show the ringing, I lost my hearing.”
After this tragedy, and being the first American wounded in the war, Alva chose to retire from the Marine Corps and go back to college.
Alva studied social work and came out as a gay man four years later. He admits to breaking the law because he did tell comrades about his sexuality. Eventually, the media swarmed him with questions, wondering why he decided to speak up now. He replied saying that it was time for the LGBTQ-plus community to have the same rights as all individuals.
“Freedom is for all people not just a selected few,” Alva said.
Alva then volunteered to work with the Human Rights Campaign and became the national spokesperson to repeal the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, which was appealed Dec. 17 and 18, and signed by President Barack Obama on Dec. 22.
“We are only promised today,” Alva said. “If you think about it, tomorrow is just a word; it does not exist. So when you wake up tomorrow, live it because it is another promised day, it is a blessing.”
“I felt a little embarrassed because I didn’t know about ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,’” senior Sarah Christ said. “I thought it was pretty cool to hear the behind the scenes things about the military and what he did to change it.”