Tempered Steel Speakers Short Biographies
Alvin Shell – Virginia/Washington DC Area – Works for Homeland Security (speaking engagements have to be approved by DHS.) 1st Lt. Shell and his team were on a supply route outside of Baghdad in 2003 when a rocket-propelled grenade struck their convoy and engulfed his comrades in flames. Covered in gasoline, the officer ran into the fire to aid them. He then led them back to Camp Victory, two miles away, before he collapsed, covered with burns. "When they told him he was a hero, Alvin disagreed," the president said in his speech. "'I'm not a hero,' he said. ‘I’m a paratrooper.'"
Shell was medically retired from the military by 2006 and, with a wife and three kids to support, embarked on a job search. He struggled to get employers to recognize his varied military experience and the skills he had gained working at civilian police departments.
Shell said he's grateful for his leaders' support and for Homeland Security's ongoing commitment to hiring veterans. Leaders set a goal in 2008, he said, to hire 50,000 veterans by the end of 2012.
Andy Toppin – Dickinson, TX - Graduated Military Police OSUT in February 2008 in Fort Leonard Wood, MO, then was sent to Camp Casey, South Korea for a year. On my mid-tour leave from Korea, Toppin was married. After he finished 1 year in Korea he was stationed in the 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division HHC MP Platoon in Fort Lewis WA (now Joint Base Lewis-McChord). In August of 2009 Toppin and his wife found out that she was pregnant.
Toppin was deployed to Camp Liberty Iraq on September 7, 2009 and ran over 200 successful combat missions before being injured in December that same year. He was treated in theater for 3 days, and then moved to Landhstul Regional Medical Center in Germany. After 1 month in Germany of fighting infections and lung failure in a medically induced coma, Toppin was finally healthy enough to return stateside. He arrived at BAMC in San Antonio on January 12th 2010 and was released from this hospital at the end of March, just in time to witness, in person, the birth of his beautiful daughter (April 22 2010).
Brian (BC) Fleming – Benbrook, TX - Fleming served as a Team Leader in a Reconnaissance Platoon (11B- Infantry) with the U.S. Army’s 10th Mountain Division. A Purple Heart recipient, he sustained multiple life-threatening injuries from the attack of a suicide bomber who exploded three-feet away from him in Kandahar, Afghanistan on July 24th, 2006. He awoke, burned and bloody, laying face-down in a ditch on the side of the road. He sustained 2nd and 3rd degree burns to both of his hands, his face, and his neck. After enduring reconstructive surgery and fourteen months of burn treatment and rehabilitation at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, he finished writing his book about his war experiences, "Never the Same."
Bob Ehrig – Bulverde, TX - Ehrig was injured by a suicide truck bomb made with 100 tanks of propane while he was supervising operations at the Ramadi Iraqi police station in Iraq. Ehrig stood in the middle of the open compound, yelling for everyone to get down when he was hit by the fireball that went 150 ft. outwards and 1/2 mile upwards. Ehrig suffered 40% 3rd degree full thickness burns to his head, face, neck, back arms, hands, and thighs. He has severe corneal scaring. Ehrig's wounds included inhalation burns to the throat and larynx, total neuropathy to his right arm and hand and hearing loss. Due to his severe injuries, 70% of Ehrig's body is unable to sweat.
Bobby Henline – San Antonio, TX - Bobby knows the physical scars left by the IED- improvised explosive device, are visible on his body- what people don't see he tells me are the invisible scars. "The comedy is not only healing for me, but at the same time it's getting awareness out there." He recounts the events of April 7, 2007 factually, detached from any awareness as his mind cannot yet recall specifics; the details have been given to him through military reports, second hand witnesses and medical assessments. He does recall volunteering to take the lead vehicle to keep a newly injured soldier from harm his first day back, he also remembers having a cup of coffee waiting for the Captain that died later in the Humvee they were driving when hit, but otherwise cannot recall any other sensations, details or memories.
He has been told that he suffered full thickness burns over 38% of his body. His head was burned so deeply that his skull was visible. He lost his eyelid, the use of his left hand which was later amputated, and remarkably suffered no burns on his chest. On the first and second deployments Robert had used his down time to work out, bringing his body into excellent physical shape. He jokes that at one point he had earned the nickname "The Gun Show" and had serial numbers tattooed on his biceps. Henline's story is featured on our stories page.
Bret McCauley – Westfield, IN - 2nd battalion, 1st Marine regiment, Fox co. 3rd plt. Fallujah, Iraq March – September 2004 Platoon was ambushed while on patrol March 26. Sustained GSW, he requested to stay with unit and resumed combat operations through summer. He was blown up by car bomb Sept 6, 10 of the 15 Marines were killed.
He woke up 2 weeks later in Bethesda suffering from PTSD, TBI, left upper arm shrapnel wound, lost his spleen, lost his left kidney, left radial nerve palsy, broke his back, shrapnel right arm, subdural hematoma, blew out both eardrums, corneas temporarily rippled from concussion, liver lacerated, 2nd and 3rd degree burns on hands and face, gunshot wound left leg.
Christopher (Aggie) Aguilera – Las Vegas, NV - Master Sergeant Christopher Aguilera was injured June 9, 2010 when the HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter he was operating in crashed in southeastern Afghanistan. Responding to a Marine in critical condition, the crew was scrambled and was on scene in minimal time. MSgt Aguilera's helicopter took massive damage to its tail rotor. This resulted in loss of tail rotor authority and his HH- 60 began to spin. Both MSgt Aguilera and SSgt Smith were able to direct the aircraft away from ground forces and inform the pilots when clear of pedestrian houses. Pedro 66 impacted the earth at 120 knots from over 100 feet. A fire started immediately. 4 of the flight crew were killed on impact. He suffered a broken ankle, hip, tailbone, back in four spots, sternum, 3 broken ribs, collar bone and jaw. Aguilera had a deep puncture wound to his left upper hamstring and a punctured lung, busted disc and compressed bone in his back, suffered a traumatic brain injury, broke all his teeth on his left side of his face, 35% burns to left side, and 10% to right, and received multiple minor amputations.
Christopher Ayres - League City TX - He was wounded in the 1st Battle of Fallujah. While fighting the enemy they were ambushed. His AAV caught on fire and he lost his hamstring to an RPG. Ayres was pulled from the burning AAV and then carried to a house where his Marines fought for over an hour waiting for their quick reaction force to medevac Cpt. Ayres. He cardiac arrested several times.
As a result of the attack, Ayres has a complete loss of his right posterior thigh, sciatic and peroneal nerve damage throughout leg and foot. In addition, he experienced 3rd degree burns throughout the right side of his body. Today, along with the permanent damage to his right leg, he also lives with chronic pain throughout his lower back, leg, and foot, peripheral vision loss, moderate traumatic brain injury, and post-traumatic stress.
Chris Traxson – Rogers, AR – On Oct 23, 2006 driving in Fallujah, Iraq in a convoy, a roadside bomb detonated under Humvee causing catastrophic injuries to Traxson and three other Marines in the vehicle. He and the other 2 were medevac’d by Humvee to Fallujah Surgical hospital. Traxson was then transported to BAMC in SA, TX where he stayed for the next 2 ½ years having surgery and rehabilitating; at which time Traxson retiring. Traxson suffered 50% 3rd degree burns and 7% 2nd degree burns to his lower body, torso and left arm and hand. He suffers from nerve damage to his lower left leg causing foot-drop. Traxson is now a student at the local college in Rogers AR.
Derek Moody – Derby, KS - During night time operations In Baghdad Iraq operating out of COP ATTACK April 14th 2007, his platoon came under heavy enemy direct and indirect fire, he was actively engaging insurgents when he was shot by an enemy sniper in the side of the head, He fell from a ladder into the street where he was subsequently shot in the back 6 more times. He then received minor shrapnel wounds to his forehead from an RPG. Moody suffers from TBI and severe PTSD.
Devin (Trey) Marshall –– Marshall was born in Fort Worth, TX. Marshall entered the US Army in September 2007. He was deployed to Maysan Province, Iraq in June of 2008 and returned state side in April 2009 Marshall has 4 great kids, two of which are step sons and also serving in the army. Marshall cites his beautiful wife as his caretaker who helps him with his memory and PTSD injuries. Marshall also suffered nerve damage to his shoulder.
Johnny Pillow – San Jose, CA - While traveling in a convoy, his truck was hit by an IED. Pillow was ejected from the truck, landing on his shoulder and head. He suffers from moderate TBI, post-concussion syndrome, elbow, shoulder, ankle and back injuries, as well as PTSD.
Leshonda Gill – Santa Clarita, CA - Leshonda was an Army Chemical Operations Specialist in Iraq 2003 when her convoy was hit by an explosion. The vehicle in front of Leshonda’s Humvee exploded, her vehicle receiving the brunt of the shrapnel. Leshonda lost her spleen, a kidney, and her teeth. Of the 24 troops in her convoy, 8 were killed. The final and most enduring injury however was PTSD/Combat trauma. After returning to Iraq as a contractor from 2006-2009, it wasn't until then she realized the very real effects PTSD was having on her ability to adjust back to civilian life. Unprepared for this challenge, the wounds of war both physical and mental hit Leshonda, resulting in eventual homelessness on the streets of Washington DC.
After receiving support and relocating from DC to Los Angeles she has begun the next phase of her life, receiving much needed dental surgeries, settling into a home for female veterans, and continuing her education. It is Leshonda’ s goal to move forward with a focused determination, to share her story of survival with others, and to create awareness of the affects PTSD has on many troops returning from war.
LyVell Gibson – Los Angeles, CA - Injury occurred in Ramadi, Iraq. While on an IED patrol, to protect supple route, he came in contact with in IED (did not explode). Secured IED off and while standing outside the Humvee waiting for EOD a car drove up next to him. It was a suicide bombing attack.
Gibson suffers from PTSD, TBI, loss of vision in right eye, loss of hearing in both ears, ringing in ears a lot, scaring on left arm, loss of muscle tissue and loss of use of left leg. Gibson cannot bend knee but 30 degrees.
Richard Massimino – Houston, TX – PTSD from 3 deployments, and TBI from an explosion that knocked him into a wall in 2004 in Iraq. Broke his back twice once at Camp Pendleton and then in country.
Robert Bruce – San Antonio, TX – Robert was severely burned during a boiler explosion on his ship. When the steam leak occurred Bruce was located in the console level of the space. Bruce and some of his shipmates stayed to help place the boiler in a safe secure condition, then evacuated the space. Bruce suffered 3rd degree burns to 30.5% of his body, and sever inhalation burned to his trachea and lungs.
Bruce says of his award: "I only did what I had been trained to do as a young sailor coming up in the ranks, and also did what I had taught young sailors once I had become the teacher. If my Navy career is over because of the prolonged effects of the injuries I suffered on that dark day December 1 2006, I can honestly say it has been my honor and esteemed pleasure to serve with the all the shipmates I have served with".
Scott Stephenson – Atchison, KS - Scott Stephenson joined the Army in October of 2004 where he attended basic and Paratrooper training at Ft. Benning, GA. With the expansion of the Airborne force from a single battalion (1-501st) at Fort Richardson, Alaska to a brigade (4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division), the lineage of 3-509th was reactivated on 16 September 2005 as 3-509th and assigned to Fort Richardson. The battalion deployed with the 4th BCT in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in October 2006.
On November 25, 2006, while on patrol his Humvee hit a command wired, pressure plated Improvised Explosive Device that consisted of 4 155mm rounds with 10 gallons of gasoline as an accelerant. When the IED exploded it hit the fuel cell in the Humvee covering Stephenson with both gasoline and diesel fuel. He was subsequently burned 3rd and 4th degree over 66% of his body. In addition to the burns, his left arm was almost completely severed, he suffered massive internal injuries from shrapnel and eventually his left lower leg was amputated.
After spending 7 weeks in ICU and 5 months in the hospital at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, TX, he was released on an out-patient basis into the care of his mother. Scott then spent the next 3 ½ years in and out of surgeries, with over 50 surgeries behind him, he was finally fitted with a prosthetic in June of 2010. Stephenson is featured on our stories page.
Steve Baskis - Glen Ellyn, Illinois May 13, 2008 Baghdad, Iraq His up-armored vehicle was struck with an explosively formed projectile EFP. Killing one and injuring several others. The projectile traveled at a high rate of speed through the air, smashing and tearing through the thick armor. Super-heated metal fragments called shrapnel pierced the air with lightning speed, turning the interior of the vehicle into a death trap. He was in critical condition and the decision was made to medically evacuate him to a field hospital. As the sun set over the hot sand, his vision faded to black. Baskis “The world as I knew it would never be the same.”
Specialist Steve Baskis sustained shrapnel injuries in the upper and lower extremities of the body. As a result of the blast, he lost his vision and fine motor control of his left hand. The left arm has nerve and artery damage. There were minor injuries in the right arm and both legs. Other head injuries include: Subdural hematoma, sinus damage and hearing loss.
Timothy Hornik – Lawrence, KS - He served as Air Defense Artillery officer for 9 years on Active Duty, with 7 years of service after sustaining his injury. After commissioning from the University of Wisconsin La Crosse, his wife and he served in Korea. Following this, they moved to Fort Hood, where he joined 4-5 ADA, 2nd Brigade, and 1st CAV in support of OIF. His injury occurred while conducting a joint operation with the Iraqi National Guard in Baghdad. A sniper managed place a bullet threw his left temple and exiting out the right eye. Hornik suffers from loss of vision in left eye and diminishing vision in right eye.
After sustaining his injury and recovering, Operational Test Command provided him with an opportunity for continued service. In 2008, the Army Wounded Warrior Education Initiative provided him the opportunity to obtain a Masters in Social Work. After graduating in 2010, he served in the AW2EI until retirement in Dec 2011. His intent is to pursue my independent clinical license in order to assist Veterans overcome difficulties incurred by service.
Jerry Webber – PA - Webber was a tanker in the Army from Jan 2001 until May 2008. He injured his right knee during his first deployment in 2003 during a raid jumping a wall; back injuries, PTSD, and TBI from multiple IED attacks, mortar attacks, and firefights during both deployments. Webber continues to act and serve as an NCO to his former men and talks to bring a greater understanding to the military members who have served.
Joel Hunt – Denver, CO - On June 17, 2005, during his third Iraq combat deployment in as many years, he was injured by a road-side blast that left him with a severe traumatic brain injury (TBI). When he returned home injured he felt helpless. He was confined to a wheelchair and his parents were compelled to move in and become his caregivers. He consistently endured bouts of dizziness and blackouts and double-vision making it difficult for him to focus. His TBI also affected his body’s ability to regulate body temperature and he was always at risk of over-heating. Hunt could not control nor feel his legs.
In 2009 he turned to the Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) for assistance. CAF’s Operation Rebound program for injured troops and first responders provided him with the equipment and additional funding necessary to compete as a downhill ski racer. Today, he is ranked 5th nationally and 50th in the world as an adaptive skier. Although he remains challenged by TBI, paralysis in his left leg and double-vision that makes it difficult to focus, he has have made great strides over the past three years.
Joel Tavera – Tampa, FL - : In March of 2008, the Humvee that Joel was riding in was hit by five rockets. The blasts killed three men. Joel was thought to be dead as well. Sgt. Tavera lost sight in both of his eyes, his right leg, four fingers on his left hand, and suffered very serious head trauma and critical burns to 60 percent of his body. His parents, Jose and Maritza, have been told that their son is the second most severely injured Army soldier to survive since the war in Iraq began.
Tavera received the Medallion of St Christopher - only 2 have been awarded and he is the only one in this century to have one.
Thomas Murphy – Virginia Beach, VA – Murphy is a 20 Year Hospital Corpsman (medic) still on active Duty with 4 deployments to OIF/OEF and medevac’d from all deployments Left below knee amputee and right knee injuries suffered in 2005 in Iraq.
Ron Cardey – Kyle, TX – On December 17, 2007 while on a mission from Tikrit to Mosul, their Humvee was hit by an IED. Cardey was a combat medic who served 18 years in the army. Cardey suffers from PTSD, TBI, three broken ribs, shrapnel in ankle, four herniated spinal disks.
Johnny Carbajal - Lahaina, HI, - With the expansion of the Airborne force from a single battalion (1-501st) at Fort Richardson, Alaska to a brigade (4th Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division), the lineage of 3-509th was reactivated on 16 September 2005 as 3-509th and assigned to Fort Richardson. The battalion deployed with the 4th BCT in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in October 2006. Carbajal was a combat medic with the same unit as Stephenson. He has been diagnosed with PTSD due to the events he was involved in over his 15 month deployment in Iraq between 10/2006 and 12/2007.
One of the things that he was most affected by was when his friend Scott Stephenson was blown up on November 25, 2006. Carbajal felt so guilty that he couldn't get the flames out in time, and that he couldn't get Stephenson’s boot off and Stephenson lost his leg. He also suffers from a mild traumatic brain injury from a blast he sustained on Patrol Base Copper in January, 2007.
Jacob Tabora – San Antonio, TX – After returning from his first deployment from Iraq he was injured in a training accident in 29 Palms, California on June 19, 2008. They were training to re-deploy. Tabora was a tank crewman and during a live fire exercise a defective 120mm tank round exploded inside his tank, setting it on fire and trapping him inside. Tabora suffers from 55% TBSA burns, 36% of those are 3rd degree burns and PTSD