The first US soldier wounded in the Iraq war, retired Marine Staff Sgt. Eric Alva, has come out as a gay man. On March 21, 2003, Alva was in charge of 11 Marines in a supply unit in Iraq when he stepped on a landmine, losing his right leg. Alva spent months of rehabilitation at Walter Reed Army Hospital where he was visited by President Bush, First Lady Laura Bush and former Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. He was awarded a Purple Heart for his service and received a medical discharge from the military.

Alva publicly announced, for the first time, that he is gay on Wednesday during a Capitol Hill press conference to reintroduce the Military Readiness Enhancement Act, legislation to repeal the ban against openly gay and lesbian Americans serving in the military.

“When Eric Alva lost his leg in Iraq, it didn’t matter whether he was gay or straight, only that he was a courageous American serving his country,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. “Eric’s voice represents the sacrifice of thousands of gay and lesbian service members fighting for the safety and freedom of all Americans. We believe his story should help move this issue forward and educate Congress as to why it’s so important to lift the discriminatory ban that compromises our nation’s security.”

“Any Americans willing to serve their country shouldn’t have to worry about whether or not the government will give them fair and equal treatment when they return home,” said Alva. “My proudest moment in the military came when I would confide in one of my friends about my sexual orientation, and they still treated me with the same respect as before. And although I’m no longer wearing the uniform of the U.S. Marine Corps, my mission continues to be protecting the rights and freedoms of all Americans.”

Alva has widely discussed his recovery and the war through appearances on numerous TV news shows and “The Oprah Winfrey Show.” He has also been profiled in several major newspapers and in People magazine. But today is the first time he has publicly talked about his sexual orientation in relation to his military service.

“We salute Eric for his bravery on and off the battlefield,” continued Solmonese. “The courage and sacrifice of gay and lesbian service members, like Eric Alva, should be heralded, not silenced.”

In 2005, the US’s Government Accountability Office estimated that the cost to recruit and train replacements for enlisted service members separated under the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” ban was more than $190 million from fiscal years 1994 through 2003.

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