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Albert R. Alvarez

U.S. Navy / Bronze Star with Valor

Petty officer with job 'nobody likes to do' thought he might not survive detonation mission

The dust was almost blinding, swirling around Navy Petty Officer Albert Alvarez and the Marines depending on him to neutralize two bombs they had discovered in ditches along the highway.

“We’re stuck in the middle of this,” Alvarez thought. “I’ve got to get the guys out.”

The military’s disposal experts disarm some bombs, destroy others by shooting at them and detonate still others. In the midst of this storm, detonation was the only option along the roadside in Iraq’s Anbar province.

Alvarez figured there was a good chance he wouldn’t survive.

He had left his bomb suit back at Al Asad airbase, thinking he wouldn’t need it on what was supposed to be a one-day mission in the countryside. He knew his helmet and body armor would be riddled by shrapnel if the bombs exploded while he was working on them. And if he somehow survived, he probably would bleed to death since a helicopter evacuation in a raging dust storm was out of the question.

“If I get hit, I’m a goner,” he said.

The first bomb actually was pretty easy. After a remote-control robot he intended to use for the job flipped over in the ditch, Alvarez eased himself down the shallow embankment and gingerly placed a timed charge of C4 explosive alongside the bomb.

He scrambled across the highway to deal with the second bomb, this one in a steeper and deeper ditch; if he crawled all the way to the bottom, Alvarez would be in over his head — literally.

Leaning on the embankment, he dangled the C4 above the bomb and tried to lower it into place. He slipped, and the charge fell.

“Oh, oh — that’s a case of beer,” Alvarez told himself. (The disposal team’s custom is that anytime someone messes up, the offender buys a case for his squad mates.)

But luck or something more was on Alvarez’s side. The C4 fell into a perfect position atop the bomb. Alvarez clambered back up to the road, and four minutes later, both bombs were safely detonated.

The close encounter in early April 2007 helped earn Alvarez a Bronze Star medal, with a “V” device attached to denote valor in combat.

In Anbar, it turned out, Alvarez was assigned to his father’s old Marine unit. “I got more time with those guys than you did,” he told his dad after his last tour of duty.

Alvarez, 34, got into explosive ordnance disposal after “work on the flight deck of aircraft carriers… just got boring.”

Dealing with explosives is among the military’s most dangerous work. His wife, Julie, doesn’t care to hear much about what he does, but in 2006 she founded and still runs a Web site, www.eodfamilies.com, which tries to help nervous spouses cope with the stress.

An official account of Alvarez’s last tour of duty in Iraq, during 2007, credits Alvarez with supervising 42 disposal operations, clearing 200 kilometers of supply routes and providing “the safe reduction of 2,432 pounds of enemy ordnance and explosive.”

Alvarez said he doesn’t think much about the danger anymore. Approaching a mission, he said, “I get kind of antsy and excited,” eager to get on with the job.

“It’s something that nobody likes to do.”

Dale Eisman covered the Pentagon and the U.S. Navy for 15 years as Washington correspondent for the Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va. He is now a Washington-based freelance reporter.

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Navy Petty Officer Albert Alvarez, now stationed in Italy, had one of the most dangerous jobs in the war - explosive ordnance disposal. "It's something that nobody likes to do," he said. (Photo courtesy of Albert Alvarez)

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Albert R. Alvarez

U.S. Navy / Bronze Star with Valor

Born June 1, 1975, in Kerrville, Texas. Lifelong Texan with a permanent home in the Dallas area.

Wife, Julie; daughter, Isabel, 10; son, Austin, 8.

Joined the Navy 15 years ago and has served two tours of duty in Iraq. Stepson recently joined the Marines and soon will deploy to Okinawa, Japan.

WHAT HE DID
Safely detonated two roadside bombs in difficult terrain during a swirling sandstorm to protect a Marine mission.

WHERE HE IS NOW
Stationed with Explosive Ordnance Disposal unit 8 in Sigonella, Italy.

WHY HE JOINED THE NAVY
“I originally wanted to be in the Marines because my dad was in the Marines.” His father was opposed, insisting that in the Navy, “They do the same thing and have better toys.”


Iraq / Anbar Province

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