The commander of Peterson Air Force Base has apologized to one of the nation’s most well-known wounded warriors for being refused entry into the base commissary.
“I would like to express my sincere apology to Israel Del Toro for being refused access to our base commissary,” Col. Sam Johnson, 21st Space Wing Commander said in a statement to Military Times. “I am grateful he brought to our attention that our COVID safety policies did not account for medical concerns of our veteran, wounded warrior, retiree, and family member populations.”
Unlike many of the “Karens” filling TikTok and Instagram feeds across the country with refusals to cover their mouths despite COVID-19 risks, this veteran has a good reason.
Del Toro, a retired Air Force senior master sergeant, can’t wear a face mask. That’s because he lost his ears and fingers in the line of duty.
“I don’t have ears, I can’t loop them,” he told KKTV, noting that his breathing condition is an additional issue. “Trust us, if we could, we would wear masks.”
The incident happened in June, but Del Toro has been very vocal over the last few weeks as he wants his message to be heard, because despite the dangers of COVID, people with disabilities need to be taken into consideration.
The Public Affairs office for 21 Space Wing noted that this was a mistake, one they were unprepared for in the midst of developing COVID-19 health protocols.
“It was essentially a lack of training aspect,” Jeff Bohn, a spokesperson for 21 Space Wing public affairs, told Military Times. “Our people were required to wear a mask. Someone, a volunteer, at the door refused him entry. It wasn’t known at the time by anyone who could make that call differently. The Wing Commander has apologized, however.”
Del Toro was injured on December 4, 2005, while serving as a Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) in Afghanistan. His humvee made contact with an IED leaving him with severe burns across more than 80 percent of his body, the loss of one hand and almost all the other fingers on the other hand.
According to the Air Force, Del Toro “remained in a coma for about three months. At the time, his doctors believed that he had less than a 20 percent chance of survival.
Sarah Sicard is a Senior Editor with Military Times. She previously served as the Digitial Editor of Military Times and the Army Times Editor. Other work can be found at National Defense Magazine, Task & Purpose, and Defense News.