Air Force TACP Specialist exemplifies ‘Service Before Self,’ receives ESPY

“I will stay strong for the ones who can not, I will fight for the ones who can not fight, I will never F ##### quit on you, and I WILL finish strong!”

These are the words of American Badass, Air Force Master Sgt. Israel Del Toro as he humbly accepted one of sport’s most notable awards Wednesday — the Pat Tillman ESPY Award For Service.

In 2005, Del Toro was serving in Afghanistan when his Humvee hit a buried mine and exploded. More than 80 percent of his body was covered in severe burns, and he lost all of his fingers on his left hand.

When he came out of a three-month-long coma, doctors said he’d likely never walk or breathe again without assistance — they were wrong!

Just a year later, Del Toro was not only able to breathe and walk on his own, he also took part in a variety of sports to include the Invictus Games where in 2014 he won a silver medal in powerlifting. Del Toro didn’t stop there — medaling again in 2016 when he captured gold in the shot put.

Then Tech. Sgt. Israel Del Toro was one of the 200 athletes who competed in the Warrior Games in Colorado Springs, Colo. Sergeant Del Toro is a tactical air control party instructor and recruiter at the 342nd Training Squadron at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. (U.S. Air Force photo/Deborah Silliman Wolfe)

ESPN reports Del Toro used sports as part of his rehabilitation and was not only able to walk and breathe on his own — he also reached another significant milestone by becoming the first 100 percent combat disabled Air Force technician to re-enlist in the service.

“First, I’m humbled for even being considered for this prestigious award named after Pat Tillman — a man I admire — but to actually receive this honor is unbelievable,” Del Toro said in a statement to ESPN.

In Del Toro’s statement to ESPN, he reflects on Tillman’s sacrifice and his Service Before Self attitude.

“When I heard that Pat Tillman gave up a career in the NFL to serve his country after the 911 attacks, it gave me so much pride to call him a brother in arms,” he said.

Not only does Del Toro, who lost both parents by age 14, continually pledge his service to country, he tells Tillman’s widow Marie he’ll honor her late husband.

“To Mrs. Tillman and the Pat Tillman Foundation, I give you my pledge that I’ll always try to live up to the true meaning of the Pat Tillman Award for Service in everything I do, and to represent his spirit to the best of my ability.”

Del Toro is the first 100 percent combat-disabled Air Force technician to re-enlist and received his promotion to Master Sgt. last year. He currently works as a terminal attack controller instructor.

The Pat Tillman Award, established in 2014, to honors the former NFL player and U.S. Army Ranger who died in combat in 2004. Winners have a strong connection to service and sports, according to ESPN.

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