By NATHAN PETERSON
Transitions between military and civilian life can be difficult, as those two worlds are polar opposites.
Pima Community College student and retired Navy sailor Baudelio “Rudy” Alegria knows the transition all too well.
Before military life, Alegria was a student at Tucson High School. He played three sports, including baseball. The baseball team won state championships in 1987 and 1988.
When Alegria was a freshman in high school, his father died at age 35. That forced Alegria into the workforce, but he still kept up his studies and activities.
By staying in school, he found the love of his life: his high school sweetheart and now wife, Johanna Alegria. She has lived through ups and downs with her husband and knows the struggles he dealt with even before the military.
“He lost his dad at a very young age, and had to become the man of his family,” she said. “His mom did not want him to go to high school. She wanted him to go to work. But Rudy maintained a full-time job plus played three sports all four years.”
That attitude and the structure from high school days helped him rank at the top of his dive and jump class in the military.
“It helped out a lot,” he said. “Being with the dive teams and the Explosive Ordnance Disposal teams helped learn trust within other ethnics and other races.”
Alegria said he had no idea what he wanted to do in the Navy until he was approached after boot camp to join dive school. He graduated in the top 5 percent of his class and was invited to EOD School.
He graduated from EOD in the top 3 percent and was invited to Jump School, where he earned his Airborne Wings.
With those experiences, Alegria received the honor of serving with the Honor Guard on the USS Arizona at age 22.
Thirteen years later, Alegria’s life changed drastically. The United Nations sent Alegria’s EOD unit into a hot spot in Kosovo to eliminate hostiles in the area. The zone was also laid out with numerous improvised explosive devices.
The job of Alegria’s unit was to remove IEDs from a school zone.
“My buddy accidently stepped on a pressure plate,” Alegria said. “He is in heaven now but I do not remember anything from then on.”
Alegria was injured. It required a great deal of time and patience to nurse himself back to health. He received care from the younger of his two children, his daughter.
“Both of my hips, my knees and my ankles are all plastic and metal,” he said. “I spent two months in a coma. My daughter helped me get all my basic skills of talking and learning how to walk again. I’ve gone through multiple surgeries, and more to come to replace my left knee.”
Algeria, who also suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, now works as a counselor for the Southern Arizona VA Health Care System. Moving from patient to employee helped establish credibility.
“I am not just any Joe Schmo,” he said. “They are going to look at me and say that I’ve been through the muck, I have chewed the sand. I show them my scars. I suffer from PTSD and I tell them that, which makes it easier for them to trust me.”
Alegria enrolled at PCC to help refine his skills as a peer counselor.
“Pima is teaching me more skills as far as how to run my groups over at the VA and making me more rounded to be more prepared for them,” he said.
Alegria understands firsthand how it feels to come back from war. He knows the struggles, and knows that veterans just want to stop the suffering.
He himself tried to stop the suffering with two attempted suicides.
“After the military was very scary, we were on a roller coaster,” Johanna Alegria said. “Now he is working with vets, being a role model with them. Now he’s going to school learning to be a better person for himself, his family and other vets.”
Alegria has found a new outlook on life. He believes the failed suicides mean he has a purpose in the world.
The Southern Arizona VA has helped Alegria explore ways he can help other veterans.
“There are 22 suicides a day on the average,” he said. “My overall goal is to hopefully stop one a day. If I can cut that from 22 to hopefully 21, that is my ultimate goal in life. To help the veterans and the families of the veterans.”