"Stories of Honor" features men and women serving in the U.S. Armed Forces, Reservists and veterans; along with area businesses and nonprofit organizations supporting their efforts. Its coordinated by H.E.R.O.E.S. Care on behalf of St. Louis Regional Alliance for the Troops. Select stories are chosen by a board of appointees.
Tim Alexander (U.S. Army)
He doesn’t know why he didn’t strap in as regulations dictated, but that one decision may have saved his life.
Army Staff Sgt. Tim Alexander was a sniper atop a Humvee traveling outside Basra in southern Iraq on Oct. 29, 2005, when an IED hidden in the sand detonated, destroying the vehicle, killing the four soldiers inside and blasting Alexander some 45 feet through the hot, dusty air.
“All I remember is hearing the explosion and seeing the flash and seeing the sky,” the Glen Carbon man says. “The next thing I know I woke up in Germany.”
Alexander, now 46, doesn’t remember the fighting that ensued, in which two more American soldiers were injured, or the helicopter flight to Baghdad, where doctors put him in a medically induced coma and transferred him to a military hospital in Germany. He had broken his back in six places.
“We had vehicles in front of us clearing (improvised explosive devices) but you knew every day when you went outside the wire there was a chance they could miss something,” he said. “I still don’t know why I didn’t strap myself in that day. I’ve racked my brain. I can’t say why.”
Alexander grew up in Collinsville, unsure what he wanted to do with his life. When he graduated from high school in June 1990, he felt a call to serve. “I knew I wanted to be part of something bigger than myself,” he says.
After basic training at Fort Polk, La., followed by jump school and infantry school, he landed at Fort Sill, Okla. A few months later his unit deployed overseas to serve during Desert Shield/Desert Storm. He served in Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Kuwait over the course of those years.
“Then things were pretty uneventful until Sept. 11 happened,” he says.
He was stationed at Fort Lewis in Washington when the first plane hit the World Trade Center.
“I was going through the gate going to work about 5:30 a.m. when I heard on the radio about the first plane hitting,” Alexander says. “Then I was getting out of the car when the second plane hit. By that point, we all knew it was something big. We didn’t know what or who but we knew the stuff had hit the fan, and we knew we were going. We didn't care where we were going but we were ready. We took it personally. It was like, ‘You’re not going to come into our house and do that.’”
Alexander’s infantry unit landed in Afghanistan in late October 2001 and was deployed four more times to Afghanistan and Iraq over the next four years.
Every single time, he was ready to go back.
“It was payback for the thousands of lives we lost on Sept. 11,” he says. “Those people got up that morning and they had no clue what was going to happen to them on that beautiful sunny day.”
He didn’t know any of the victims personally, “but to me it was like they were all family.”
Even after being injured and spending 18 months recuperating at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Alexander was itching to go back on duty. But his injuries prohibited him from serving anywhere but at a desk. “No offense,” he says he told his superiors, “but I didn’t go into the Army to sit behind a desk.”
That left a medical retirement as his only option. So he returned home, again unsure what to do with himself and still in severe pain, which persists today. “I was in a really dark place,” he says. “I didn’t want to do anything, I didn’t want to talk to anybody. I felt like I failed.”
Eventually his new mission became clear: to help other veterans like himself. Especially those who might be casting about as he was, hurting both physically and emotionally.
“I got involved with the Disabled American Veterans - they were the ones that helped me with my disability claim and helped me get my head out of the funk,” Alexander says. “We do whatever we can do to help veterans. Pretty much whatever a veteran needs, we try to get it for him or her.”
He now serves as the commander of DAV Chapter 90 in Glen Carbon, where he helps disabled veterans connect with the benefits and services earned through military service and provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs and other agencies. Married with three stepchildren, he also works full time for the Veterans Assistance Commission in Madison County.
Helping veterans know they are not forgotten. That is the mission now.
“There are so many veterans out there who need help and they don't know who to turn to,” he says. “We have a whole generation coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan now. They come home and they feel lost and they feel like nobody cares. It hurts my heart.”
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