Eduardo Alegria never dreamed his front-line deployment to Iraq as an artilleryman would change his life and put him on a path to becoming the assistant nurse manager of Surgery Specialty Care Clinics at Bay Pines VA.
Alegria grew up in Peru, the youngest of three kids and the son of a pilot in the Peruvian army. Like his father, Alegria decided he was going to fly. At 16 he became a student in the Peruvian Air Force Academy.
When that didn’t work out, his uncle, a sergeant major in the U.S. Army called. “He asked me, ‘What are you doing with your life?’ He asked me to come to America and join the Army.”
Although he didn’t speak English well at the time, Alegria took his uncle up on the offer and came north. He graduated One Station Unit Training as a 13B Cannon Crewmember, stationed at Ft. Campbell, and prepared for his first deployment.
While in country, Alegria became one of 35,000 service members who earned a Purple Heart from Operation Iraqi Freedom. He said his experience with the medics and health care personnel in Iraq, Spain and at Fort Campbell, Ky. served as a wake-up call.
“Something just told me I wanted to be the guy who helped me,” he said.
After his wounds healed, Alegria headed to San Antonio, Texas, to become a medic. After graduation, he was reassigned to a new unit and, shortly thereafter, prepared for his second deployment, this time as a combat medic.
Hearing someone yell “Medic” for the first time
“Although we hope we’re never needed, we train for these moments. People look to you to be the difference maker in health related and life-or-death situations,” he said.
At the 12-year mark, Alegria made the choice to leave the military to pursue a nursing degree. He credits his wife, Melinda—also part of the Bay Pines VA family—with giving him the confidence he needed to make a change.
“She’s amazing. When she looked at me and said, ‘I support you and we can do this together,’ that’s all I needed,” he said. He enrolled in the VCARE nursing program at the University of South Florida and met his goal of earning a nursing degree.
Pictured above are Eduardo Alegria (left), his wife Melinda and Air Force Veteran Pedro Gomez.
“I understand what it’s like to serve.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Alegria was working as an emergency room nurse at a private medical facility in Sarasota. That’s when Alegria received a call from Pedro Gomez, an Air Force Veteran and former college classmate, about coming to work with him at Bay Pines VA.
“Being here feels like being part of a big family,” Alegria said. “When they learn I’m a Veteran, I think it puts them at ease and it gives them a sense of appreciation knowing that, like them, I understand what it’s like to serve.”
To read more stories on VA nurses, visit VA News and Information.
This post, From the front lines to nurse at Bay Pines, was originally published by the Veteran's Administration.
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