By Joseph JonesJune 28, 2019
TAMPA Fla. -- When it comes to making an impression, Sgt. 1st Class Joseph Fontenot of Fort Campbell, Kentucky, is highly respected by those who have had the opportunity to work with him.
In 2015, Fontenot was named "Military Times' Soldier of the Year." Nominated by his chain of command, he was the standout among nearly 1,000 potential candidates in a lengthy vetting process. Fontenot is also known to have made valuable contributions to how the U.S. Army trains Soldiers in Basic Combat Training by helping create the Drill Sergeant Preparation Course.
"I wanted to become a Drill Sergeant because that's the first impression new recruits get of the Army," said Fontenot. "If you can make a positive impact in the beginning, that initial impact can set the tone for a successful career for those Soldiers."
Fontenot, a Field Artillery Platoon Sergeant, has deployed for tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan. With those deployments and well over a decade of military service, he has sustained injuries that have required multiple surgeries, including nine operations on his right knee. His need for recovery placed Fontenot at the Warrior Transition Battalion at Fort Campbell.
"After my most recent surgery, the WTB was crucial in my recovery. It felt like I had the world against me having my ninth operation, but the staff at the adaptive reconditioning program, people like Ms. Becky Richards, Dr. Lindsey Davidson and many others, helped me stay focused," Fontenot added.
The U.S. Army has established WTBs similar to Fontenot's at major military treatment facilities on 14 military installations. WTBs are the cornerstone of the Warrior Care and Transition Program and play an integral role in assisting wounded, ill and injured Soldiers as they recover and overcome. The DoD Warrior Games are a culmination of adaptive sports reconditioning that takes place in the WTBs, in the form of an adaptive sports competition for the athletes selected to participate.
An avid fitness enthusiast, he took an immediate interest in the adaptive sports programs at the WTB. "Adaptive sports played an enormous part in my recovery, it makes me feel like I still had a fight, and that's imperative for any Soldier," Fontenot remarked.
Through adaptive sports and competing, Fontenot is proving to be a formidable athlete regardless of his injuries. He has earned bronze medals for Team Army in the indoor rowing event in both the four minute endurance race and the one minute sprint race in the 5.5 LE (Trunk and Legs - Physically Disabled) in the 2019 Department of Defense Warrior Games.
As a member of Team Army in the DoD Warrior Games, Fontenot is still giving a great impression of the U.S. Army to many, something he strived for when deciding to become a drill sergeant years ago. "I get messages from my dad, family and my comrades sending encouragement," recalled Fontenot. "They say keep going, no matter what, no matter what the setback, you can keep going and striving for success."
"The support of my family, especially my wife... she has kept me grounded. She always reminds me; it's me against myself in order to improve, not me against the world," recalls Fontenot. "The other athletes being in my corner as teammates is truly inspirational. These are real friendships, (teammates) keeping in touch since the Army Trials. There are lots of inspirational athletes here at Warrior Games that I'm thankful for being able to have that camaraderie with."
Another aspect of the Warrior Games that Fontenot credits with giving him support, not only in the competition itself, but tools he can continue to utilize in life long after the games conclude, are the staff in place to assist Team Army's athletes. "The staff are here to help with the mental health aspect, like the Performance Experts who help us visualize our outcomes and stay focused on the next step," said Fontenot Their one-on-one guidance to the athletes is tremendous." "Our physical therapist here at the games, Luis Cortez from the Fort Bliss WTB, goes above and beyond with each athlete as well, really taking care of us."
As far as being a positive influence on other Soldiers dealing with injuries, Fontenot has a few words of advice that has helped him get through the toughest of times. "You have to keep your head in the game, figure out what your goals are and write them down each day. See if you are making progress by checking that list. Everyone has their own struggles, we have to address them head-on and just never quit," said Fontenot.
The 2019 DoD Warrior Games run from June 21-30 in Tampa, Florida. The athletes participating in the competition are comprised of wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans representing the United States Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Special Operations Command. Athletes from the United Kingdom Armed Forces, Australian Defence Force, Canadian Armed Forces, Royal Armed Forces of the Netherlands, and the Danish Armed Forces are also competing in this year's DoD Warrior Games.