The Armory Life is honored to recently have had the opportunity to conduct an interview with decorated U.S. Armory veteran and tireless Second Amendment advocate Omar “Crispy” Avila.
Avila’s inspiring story is made up of a patriotic commitment to duty, facing the adversity of severe injuries sustained during service with the U.S. Military in Iraq and making it part of his strength, and doing his part to help others through his current role as an inspirational motivational speaker.
We would like to thank Avila for taking the time to do this Q&A session with The Armory Life.
The Armory Life (TAL): Mr. Avila, why don’t we begin by having you tell us a bit about yourself, to give you an opportunity to introduce yourself to any of our readers who might not already be familiar with you and your story.
Omar “Crispy” Avila (OCA): My name is Omar “Crispy” Avila, and I am a veteran and proud American. While I was born in Mexico, I became a United States citizen two weeks before the terrorist attacks of 9/11. When the planes hit the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, I was a sophomore in high school deep in south Texas. I knew then that I wanted to join the military.
A lot of people say that when you join the military, you sign a blank check to the country. I think it’s the other way around. I felt like the country had given me and my family an opportunity to be Americans and to achieve anything we wanted. I wanted to do my part to make sure that the freedoms and safety of my family was ensured. In fact, my father had served in the military. I had seen pics of him in uniform, and it was inspiring to me. I wanted to pay back a debt I felt I owed my country for all it had given me.
TAL: Clearly, patriotism and a sense of duty are a big part of who you are. Can you tell us about your experience as an infantryman with the U.S. Army in Iraq?
OCA: I had been playing varsity football and had been scouted to play collegiate football, but I knew what I felt I needed to do. When I joined the U.S. Army at age 18, I knew I wanted to be out fighting on the front lines. I wanted to take the fight to these guys head on. I joined as an infantryman and was sent on a tour to Iraq. It was a life-changing experience for me. You learn really fast to cope with death and loss. You grow up really fast, and you learn to not take things for granted.
Back here at home, it’s easy to forget what’s important and focus on unimportant stuff. Over there, you learn that there are only two things that really matter: making sure that your brother in arms next to you is okay, and being willing to trust that person with your life.
On May 14th, 2007, we were on a patrol just like any other day. During the patrol, we were engaged by attackers and ran over a buried 200-lb. improvised explosive device (IED). The blast immediately killed one of our guys in the vehicle, and the rest of us were caught in the fire from the explosion.
Right after the explosion, I saw 20 or 30 attackers coming toward us, and I realized we were in trouble. Despite the fire, I got in the gun turret and used it to hold them back to give my other brothers cover to evacuate. We were able to get everybody else out, but as result of the attack I sustained burns to 75 percent of my body and lost my right leg below the knee.
TAL: Few if any of us can truly appreciate all that you’ve been through, and it’s clearly an inspiring story you have to tell. Speaking of that, can you tell us about what your life has been centered around after your time in the U.S. Army as well as your recovery?
OCA: It’s been a roller coaster. There are days that are great and I feel blessed to be alive. Other days can be really tough. It has been a long road of recovery for me, and I’m at 103 surgeries so far. But it also made me who I am today and gave me a chance to help other people.
I am doing a lot of work with Sons of the Flag, a non-profit out of Texas that deals with burn victims — both first responders, civilian and military members. Its founder, Ryan Parrott, is a good friend of mine. He served eight years as a U.S. Navy SEAL and was injured in combat and severely burned. He quickly learned that the level of burn care medicine and research here lagged far behind that of amputee care. He founded Sons of the Flag to help address this through funding and support for this important issue. It not only helps fund research but also helps individuals who are dealing with this.
Through this, I am getting to do what I love — helping kids. I’ve worked with many children who have been burned at a very young age. I’ve been able to mentor them and help them. I’m able to understand what they’ve been through, give them someone to open up to, and just help them. Getting to do this really means a lot to me.
TAL: We also know that you have a passion for firearms. Can you tell us a little about what got you into firearms, and what your feelings are about firearms ownership and use?
OCA: Obviously, serving in the military was a big part of my learning about guns. But growing up, I remember my father teaching me and my brother about guns and firearms safety. I always enjoyed them. And after I was injured, I found that I had a lot of free time on my hands. A lot of time between medical appointments, etc. I wanted to find something to keep my mind busy. For me, it was firearms. I wanted to learn everything about them. I wanted to do as much training as I could.
I learned as I got more and more involved in the firearms community that it is filled with a lot of like-minded people who really welcomed me into their world. This gave me the opportunity to pass this tradition on to the next generation, as I’ve been able to train my nieces and nephews in gun safety. I also plan on taking my nephew out hunting with me here very soon.
Guns are a big part of my life. I love them!
TAL: We have discussed your very serious injuries sustained during your tour in Iraq, as well as your recovery and how you have dealt with them. Has this had any effect on how you use/employ firearms, or the types that you do use?
OCA: I had the doctors pin my trigger finger at a curve so I could shoot. At the beginning, I was hesitant to shoot handguns as I was afraid my injuries to my hands would keep me from being able to manage the recoil and I might drop it. So, I stuck with rifles early on. But I soon built up my confidence, and now I shoot everything! I love the sport of shooting. It’s truly a passion of mine.
TAL: Speaking of guns, we also know that you own numerous Springfield Armory firearms. Can you tell us about why you like them, and what some of your favorites are?
OCA: Honestly, my favorite is the M1A Tanker. I’ve always been a huge fan of World War II history, and I like guns that help me feel more “connected” to that era. The M1A Tanker, with its wood and steel, just “feels” like a gun from that time and reminds me a lot of the M1 Garand that those who served before me used. That connection is important to me.
TAL: What are your plans for the future? Do you have any new projects in the works about which you would like to talk?
OCA: The future for me is keeping doing what I am doing. I am a motivational speaker, and I am really excited to be able to get back to doing this once we get past all the pandemic restrictions we’ve been facing. Getting to do this allows me to tell people the stories of my brothers in the military. Every time I do this, I am sure to mention two of my brothers who did not make it back home: SSG. Juan Campos and SPC. Nicholas Hartge. If I can mention their names every time, it helps to keep their memory alive. This is very important to me.
TAL: Mr. Avila, thank you not only for taking the time to talk with us but also for your service. Also, how best can our readers follow you to learn more?
OCA: I am happy to do it. Anyone who wants to follow me can find me as @crispy11b across all social media platforms.
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