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Thursday, April 3

Soldiers' moms bond while tending injured sons

By Susan Roth | GNS

BETHESDA, Md. - Two Texas mothers of soldiers severely injured in Iraq described Thursday how one raced into a minefield to try to help his injured friend, only to hit a mine himself.

Both men - Marine Staff Sgt. Eric Alva of San Antonio and Navy Hospital Corpsman Second Class Brian Alaniz of Austin - lost their right legs below the knee and had other serious injuries from the March 21 incident.

Alva, 32, who was stationed at Twentynine Palms, Calif., and Alaniz, 28, a medical assistant who was stationed at Camp Pendleton, Calif., are among 22 Marines and sailors currently undergoing treatment at the National Naval Medical Center near Washington. More casualties are expected to arrive at the hospital this weekend; 18 others have already been treated and released.

Alva and Alaniz became friends when they arrived in Kuwait together in February. After Alva stepped on a landmine in an Iraqi field that was thought to be safe, the last thing he remembered was seeing Alaniz, Lois Alva said.

Now, she said, he feels guilty because Alaniz stepped on a mine while trying to tend him. ``If he hadn't gotten hurt, Brian wouldn't have gotten hurt,'' Lois Alva said.

In addition to the lost leg, Alva also lost a finger on his right hand, broke his left leg and took shrapnel in his arms. Alaniz had serious shrapnel injuries in his thighs and left arm, in addition to his lost right leg. His mother said she was not surprised that he had gone into a minefield to help his friend.

``He is a very loving kind of person,'' said Liz Alaniz, who has stayed at her son's side since he arrived at the hospital. ``If anyone ever needed help, he was always there.''

After they were injured, both men were flown to a military hospital in Germany, where they were stabilized before coming to the medical center in Bethesda last weekend. They hoped to share a room as soon as Thursday afternoon. Their mothers said they believed that would help their sons, and both families, recover. The soldiers may be able to return home in two to three weeks.

``I feel the support Brian has from the Alva family,'' Liz Alaniz said. ``It reassures him that he's not in it alone and never will be.''

``Brian's got a smile all the time,'' Lois Alva said. ``I bonded with Liz. Having her up there (visiting in the hospital) in the same room would be great. ...I feel eternally grateful to Brian. He is the brother my son never had. Now he has become my son too.''