FORT BLISS, Texas -- Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Fontenot carries his grandfather's name with good reason.
"His nickname was 'Speedy' because he used to drive a school bus. I have the utmost respect for him and that's why I go by Joseph and not Joe. He was a hard-working man that took care of his family and lived for his children," Fontenot said.Although Fontenot's grandfather did not serve in the military, his character, family, commitment and a chance encounter with a Soldier are just a few of the reasons his namesake chose to serve his country.
"I joined in 2006 at the age of 31. I met a Soldier at a truck stop and I told him thank you for serving. He said 'No need to thank me, I do what I do for my family,' at that moment I knew I wanted to be a Soldier," Fontenot said.
During more than 13 years of service, the field artillery platoon sergeant would endure several injuries in and out of combat.
"I've suffered from re-injuring my right knee every year pretty much since 2007. I have had eight surgeries to rebuild my knee with another on the way. I've injured it several ways, level II combatives, patrolling in Iraq, playing sports during (physical training) and coming out the side of a Blackhawk," Fontenot said.
The avid athlete says he refused to let the injuries sideline his athleticism.
"It's engrained in me and is part of who I am. My parents believed in getting my sister and I involved in sports at an early age. I was in basketball by the time I was five. I played football, basketball and ran track in junior high, and into my high school years," Fontenot said. "Typically, within two to three days after surgery, I'm back in the gym working out and doing physical therapy. At the age of 44, I'm older than most competing at the Trials and because of this I work hard to not let off the gas, and try to stay in shape," he added.While most Soldiers encounter adaptive sports during their recovery time at their respective Warrior Transition Battalion, Fontenot's encounter came just two weeks ago.
"The staff at the Fort Campbell WTB is caring and willing to go the extra mile for you, not to mention our adaptive reconditioning program staff are truly amazing," Fontenot said. "I think one of the things I'm slowly learning is that just because I can't lead the charge the way I once did doesn't mean I can't still lead. I get out there and do my best and encourage others to do their best," he said.Fontenot is doing just that as he joins nearly 100 wounded, ill or injured athletes at Fort Bliss Texas this week as they compete for a spot on Team Army at the 2019 Department of Defense Warrior Games, June 21 - 30 in Tampa, Fla. Fontenot will compete in rowing, powerlifting and wheelchair basketball.
"The best thing about being around these Soldiers is that they have similar situations to your own or even more extreme, it humbles you. I don't care what anyone's rank is out here, we are all athletes and that's something I've missed. Being around all of these tremendous people has been a true honor," He said.
Fontenot says a recent practice session put everything in perspective for competition and the game of life."Falling down gives you an opportunity to do something great by getting up. I could have chosen to just sit out the rowing event after I fell out, but I decided to keep fighting and that's what we do as Soldiers. I placed third. You can't allow an injury or a profile to dictate your level of success. We are all capable of accomplishing great things, wake up, get up, and keep fighting to be the best you that you can because you only have one chance today, and once it's over you can never get today back, it's gone forever."