Wounded Warrior ‘DT’ returns to the skies, parachutes into new job
By John Van Winkle, U.S. Air Force Academy Public Affairs / Published February 28, 2017.
U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. —
An Air Force wounded warrior returned to the skies Feb. 18 with his first parachute jump in 11 years.
Master Sgt. Israel Del Toro Jr., the Air Force’s only 100-percent-disabled wounded warrior on active duty, added to his list of achievements by taking his 131st parachute jump with cadets and staff at the 98th Flying Training Squadron.
Del Toro, widely known as “DT”, took the squadron’s basic and advanced freefall parachuting with Air Force Academy cadets.
He’s a master parachutist, but said the return to altitude after 11 years on the ground gave him pause.
“At first, it didn’t bug me,” Del Toro said. “Then when I’m getting on the plane, some nerves were getting in me, but I just concentrated on what I had to do. Then when I’m there at the door, I’m thinking ‘am I really going to do this?”
Del Toro focused on his training to mute the nervousness that accompanies jumping out of a perfectly good airplane.
“After all these years, am I really going to jump again?’ By the time I had enough time to think about it, I was in the door, then jumping, arching and under parachute.”
The best part of the jump is the time spent under the canopy, Del Toro said.
“It’s an amazing experience, it really is,” he said. “Yeah, the jump is great — getting that little freefall going. Once you’re under canopy, I mean it’s just you up there; just silence and enjoying your surroundings. It’s just an amazing feeling, having your knees in the breeze.”
‘Standing in the door’
Del Toro’s return to the skies is the latest in a journey of achievements dating back to 2005. He’s a joint tactical air controller whose vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb during the start of a Dec. 4, 2005 firefight in Afghanistan. The explosion critically injured him and lit him on fire. He was thrown into a freezing-cold creek to douse the flames. Still, he managed to call in close air support for his team, and later walk to a medevac helicopter.
He woke almost four months later in the states, after suffering third degree burns on 80 percent of his body and was only given a 15-percent chance to live.
Del Toro never gave up and fought his way back, starting a long series of firsts, which led him to return to full duty, become the first 100 percent disabled Airman to reenlist, and the first Paralympian in the Air Force’s World Class Athlete Program. That program allows one to train for national and international athletic competitions.
“Don’t let what happens to you hold you down,” he said. “Don’t let your disabilities define you. Overcome those disabilities. Surpass them. Show the world that you’re still living; you’re still having fun, still doing the things you love. You may not be able to do them as you used to, but you adapt and overcome, and that’s what I do.”
While living in Colorado Springs and training for the Warrior Games and Invictus Games via the Air Force’s World Class Athlete Program, Del Toro wanted to do more. He became involved mentoring cadets with the Wings of Blue, and that led to his eventual follow-on assignment from the WCAP program, to the 98th FTS.
Officially, he’s a jump-coded Academy Military Training NCO. He’ll mentor cadets taking part in the squadron’s basic and advanced freefall courses, including the cadets upgrading into the Academy’s Wings of Blue parachute demonstration and competition team.
“DT embodies everything we’re trying to teach the cadets in our airmanship programs,” said Lt. Col. Sean Baerman, 98th Flying Training Squadron commander. “The ‘stand in the door’ command is a metaphor for training to face your biggest fears.”
Baerman said despite his injuries, Del Toro relied on his training to accomplish the mission and become a mentor to future Air Force leaders.
“As part of our squadron now, DT motivates cadets to overcome any obstacles they have in their personal and professional lives,” he said. “DT brings perspective to challenges cadets face now, versus what they may face as officers in the near future.”