July 13, 2016//
Meet Ret. Staff Sergeant Eric Alva. For as long as he can remember, this Roadrunner has tried to do what he believed was right, no matter the cost.
Social work helped me find my voice. Helping UTSA students find their voices has been tremendously rewarding”
– Eric AlvaRet. Staff Sergeant in the U.S. Marines, Program Specialist for UTSA Department of Social Work
Alva, a retired U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sergeant, is working as a program specialist with the UTSA Department of Social Work. The San Antonio native helps UTSA social work students connect with top-tier organizations for work or internship opportunities.
"It's been great to know that I can help UTSA's great students gain the practical experiences that will help them be better social workers," said Alva, who received his master's in social work in 2009. "Social work helped me find my voice. Helping UTSA students find their voices has been tremendously rewarding."
When Alva isn't working in the office, he's a motivational speaker sharing poignant stories from his 13-year military career.
Alva comes from a family with a strong military background. His father, Fidelis, served in the Vietnam War, while his grandfather, also Fidelis, served in World War II and the Korean War. "Semper Fidelis" is the motto of the Marine Corps, meaning "always faithful" or "always loyal."
"Serving in the Marine Corps had been my dream for as long as I could remember," said Alva, whose middle name is also Fidelis. "Growing up, I knew that as soon as I could, I would join the military and serve my country. "
Alva enlisted in 1990 at age 19 and went on to a 13-year career with the Marine Corps, rising to the rank of staff sergeant. In the course of duty, he was stationed in Somalia and Japan, and, ultimately, Iraq, where his life changed forever.
On March 21, 2003, in the opening hours of the Iraq War, Alva, as part of a military supply unit, stepped on a land mine, sustaining injuries and ultimately losing his right leg. Alva was the first American and Marine wounded in the Iraq War. He received a military discharge and was awarded the war's first Purple Heart.
"In the military, I learned a lot about myself," Alva said. "I had always wanted to serve my country, which I did, proudly, but after that, I came to realize there were other battles to be fought at home, too."
Alva became one of the nation's most outspoken and public advocates for the repeal of the U.S. Armed Forces' "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy — which prohibited openly gay, bisexual or lesbian people from serving in the military.
For years, Alva, who is gay, spoke out against the policy, appearing in national media outlets such as Good Morning America and the New York Times. In 2010, when President Barack Obama signed the repeal of the policy into law, Alva was standing as a witness next to him.
In the years since, Alva has continued to advocate on behalf of marginalized people, particularly the LGBT community and people with disabilities. He serves on the board of Fiesta Youth, an LGBT support group, and the San Antonio City Commission for Veteran's Affairs. He also currently serves as a standing committee on the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and will be attending the 2016 DNC Convention in Philadelphia, Penn. later this month.
This past December, Congressman Joaquin Castro presented Alva with the prestigious Chuck Jordan Award by the Human Rights Campaign of San Antonio. The honor recognizes individuals who have worked tirelessly to better the lives of gay men and women in the community.
"I also know that there's still a lot left to do to ensure equality for all," said Alva, who came to UTSA in 2015 seeking an opportunity to educate the next generation of social activists. "It's why I am glad to be working with the UTSA Department of Social Work. I'm giving these energetic students the opportunity to get out there and connect with the community."
Do you know someone at UTSA who is achieving great things? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org so we might consider your submission for an upcoming installment of Meet a Roadrunner.