Omar “Crispy” Avila has had a lot to overcome in his life, including surviving an explosive blast while serving overseas that threw his Humvee 6 feet in the air, killed his friends, left him with burns covering 75% of his body, and took one of his feet. Despite the horror he faced, Avila trudged on, recovered, and even began lifting competitively. He found solace in archery and hunting and used his life experience to start a journey inspiring others who had faced a similar fight. To this day, Avila continues to focus on motivating wounded soldiers, burn victims, and underprivileged children through various programs.
Avila believes his experience with amputation helps connect him with soldiers who are going through the same experience. He visits the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, with the goal of helping those like him by answering questions and providing guidance.
“Sometimes these guys have a lot of questions that people that haven’t gone through and can’t really relate to,” Avila said in a recent interview with Coffee or Die Magazine. “I mean, a doctor can sit there all day and tell you, ‘Hey man, this is just an amputation; you’re going to be able to do all these things down the road.’ It’s kind of hard to believe somebody that still has their other limbs or their skin or they’re healthy. But when you see someone else has gone through the things that myself and other guys have gone through, it’s easier to believe and trust those people more than anything.”
Along with his endeavors in the local hospital, Avila also serves as a Burn Survivor Ambassador for the nonprofit organization Sons of the Flag. Its mission is to support burn survivors, and Avila takes an active role.
“Through that organization I’ve been able to meet all these burned kids and burned adults and burned firefighters and military,” Avila said. “Through them I’ve been able to meet everybody and help out in a way that no one else can. I can relate to the pain and what they’re going through.”
Through Sons of the Flag, Avila can meet and encourage child burn survivors and bring them hope that they, too, can overcome their challenges as he did. He takes a particular stance against bullying and works to build each child’s confidence.
“They’re scared of what they look like — their self-esteem is low. These [bullies] can sense that, and so they go and pick on these kids and then these kids shut down,” Avila said. “There was a kid that I work with now that stopped going to school because he just didn’t want to be bullied by these other kids and nobody was doing anything about it.”
“These kids are growing up this way. They’re not going to experience the normal life and not going to be your ‘all American,’” he continued. “When they see someone like me who’s burned and done all those things and continues to do other things, I would hope that it inspires them in a way that they know that they can do anything that they want, and they can keep pushing forward and just be awesome human beings.”
Avila’s work in helping children doesn’t end at Sons of the Flag. While he was lucky that his father taught him basic gun safety and handling techniques in his youth, he explained, many other kids don’t have that same opportunity. To battle this issue, Avila is involved in a program that takes underprivileged inner-city children, grades six and up, to a ranch where they learn to operate a gun properly, hunt deer and wild pigs, and bring needed food back to their families. He hopes that through this organization they can inspire the children to make good decisions, go to college, and make a good life for themselves.
When he is not doing motivational speaking or working to enhance the lives of others, Avila is working on a book. He said it won’t be a typical war story but rather about overcoming challenges and defeating that which stands in the way of success.
“There’s a lot of things that I don’t think people know about me,” he said. “I don’t think a lot of people know that I wasn’t born in the US and became a citizen a couple of weeks before 9/11 happened, and that’s ultimately what made me want to join. We came here to work hard and chase the American dream and be part of the American people and just contribute back to society because you know we were given a chance to be Americans and you know that’s something that we don’t take lightly, and that made me want to join [the military]. That’s kind of what I want to talk about and […] just touching up on different things like that and the people that have helped me be who I am today.”