Joseph (Joey) Puente, son of Eddie and Cindy Puente (currently of Raymondville, TX), moved to Devine eight years ago, and this is where their two sons, Gus and Jake, ages 7 and 13, attend school and are both involved in sports. Joseph is a high school graduate of Pearsall (1997), where his family relocated when he was in the third grade. Prior to that, they lived on the Norias Division of the King Ranch, where, Joey explains, his father and his father’s family were all raised. After settling in Pearsall, Joey’s father pursued a successful career in Telecom – known as Valley Telephone in South Texas.
Joey found his football days at Pearsall HS to have a strong impact on his life, especially influenced by Head Football Coach Kiff Hardin. Joey recalls that his coach taught him about how to handle life’s challenges and that success takes “work, dedication, and failure in pursuing goals.” Walking through Pearsall’s Hall of Fame as a young kid, Joey determined that his name would someday be on that wall, and he succeeded in achieving that goal at the end of his senior year, being named Offensive Player of the Year!
Following high school graduation, Joey would begin a life-long dedication to serving in various forms of the US Military. His first stint was when he enlisted active duty in January of 1998 as a 11B (Infantryman), and in this role he remained until 2001. He attended basics at Ft. Benning, GA, and was first stationed at Ft. Drum, NY, where he was assigned to 2nd Battalion 87th Infantry Regiment (Catamounts). While stationed at Ft. Drum, Joey would be flown to West Point where he spent three months training “the Army’s finest officers and leaders, molding them into the military’s future leaders.” During that time at West Point, Joey tried out for the battalion’s elite unit, an experience which consisted of many mental and physical trials, but, as he explains, “I knew I wanted to be with the best.”
Elaborating on what would be expected of him, Joey shares that as an Infantryman, they would “be the battalions’ eyes out front, so we would get dropped in ahead of the main body elements and pretty much be cut off from support….” And he goes on, “We were proficient in Close Air Support, Long Range Surveillance, Target Detection, Target Elimination, and Intelligence. Our job was to get in under the cover of darkness, perform our mission, and get out undetected.” As a team, the men had to maintain a high standard of physical readiness. Joey adds, “After almost 20 years since joining this unit, I’m still close to all my buddies. There were only 12 of us in this section, and we built a bond that will never be broken.”
In 2001, Joey left active duty to join his father in his Telecom work, but after an eight-year break from the military, he enlisted into the Reserves – specifically, the United States Coast Guards. This, he admits, “…is a far venture from my days of running through the woods and jumping out of helicopters.” But, he adds, “I have always been fascinated with water, especially the Texas Coast and how it’s such a vast, spectacular creation.” Joey says he had always been interested in Search and Rescue and that he is very comfortable in the water. So, he told his recruiter that he wanted to be stationed in STA South Padre Island, TX, to perform in that role. Sure enough, he landed what he refers to as a dream job where he got to perform many tasks in the water, by boats, and on rescue helicopters.
But something was lacking. Joey felt he wanted more, and he states, “My passion for being an Army Infantrymen trumped the beaches and lavish life down in South Padre.” He would leave the United States Coast Guard Reserve to enlist in the Texas Army National Guard.
Next, in 2011, Joey was assigned to 1st Battalion 143rd Airborne Infantry Regiment. He recalls, “As soon as I reported in, I was advised to try out for a section of the battalion that was tasked to take their training to a different level of proficiency. I would try out for the Unit at Camp Bullis, TX. I would complete all tasks provided by the commander and fellow unit members and attend interview boards just to be accepted into the Unit. Out of 27 that tried out, only three of us were selected into the Unit.” All the men understood that they would be in harm’s way if their unit was mobilized, and all three men still accepted the role. A few months later, in 2012, his unit would be mobilized to Afghanistan.
Joey’s service role would shortly take a turn, as he met with an injury during training. He recalls that on a normal day of normal training, the team was simulating taking over a village up in the mountains of West Texas “as we were prepping for our deployment to Afghanistan, which had similar villages,” when Joey stepped down wrong on his left leg. Despite excruciating pain, he completed the training mission, but then he was Medevac to the hospital.
Joey’s injury was to his left knee, and, after numerous complications, surgeries, and therapy sessions, Joey reflected despondently, “How is it that just a few weeks ago I was this guy who was in great shape, running around with no health issues, and there I was in a wheel chair, being pushed around by my wife, kids, and friends.” But, after time and reflection, he decided not to lie down but to “take what I had been taught and face it that life is filled with challenges and obstacles that are not easily overcome.”
With that renewed attitude, Joey was able to have a full recovery, and, despite being strongly urged to get out of the military, it was in the Army that he most wanted to be. So, he says, “I put aside my setbacks and continued my service to this country.” Bu because he was not medically able to stay in the military as an Infantryman, Joey was asked what he liked most to do. He realized it was that he liked to help people. That led him into Army Aviation, particularly “Medevac”.
In 2014, Joey extended his TX Army National Guard contract to join Army Aviation and was and was assigned to C Co 2nd 149th Medevac at Martindale Airfield in San Antonio. The missions consist mainly of the “timely and efficient movement and en-route care of the wounded being evacuated from a battlefield or a point of injury by UH 60 Army Blackhawks.” This role includes being called upon by local and state emergency officials to help with the rescue from floods, fire, natural disasters, or persons in distress. One such incident occurred when, in May of 2016, he assisted with a man who had been swept away due to high flood waters. “We accomplished that mission as a crew, for we all have a job when were in flight. Our unit consists of well-trained personnel who are from all aspects of the State of Texas, and we come as one to work as a flight crew to perform that mission,” Joey explained.
Joey’s unit was then called to mobilize a platoon element for an overseas contingent mission to Kosovo in 2016. Personnel from all over the state came together and trained as one unit to be deployed overseas where they would perform Medevac mission support to Multi National Battle Group East. The unit was deployed from August 2016 to July of 2017. Joey has returned safely, but he adds, “I continue to be in the National Guard and will accept the call if called upon by my unit.”
As a civilian, Joey worked for Windstream Communication from March of 2001-June 2015. Today, he is with FiberLight Communications. He wants to share that throughout his military deployments, “My family is what drives me to get through the long days and return home to the smiles and nonstop love,” and that his wife, Jennifer, “…has been the foundation in our marriage, for she has had to endure countless nights with the boys and restless days of anticipation wondering if I was ok…. And most of all, when I got hurt, she stood next to me, making me want to better myself.” And as for hobbies, the Texas Coast still has a lure for Joey where his passion is to enjoy fishing off the Laguna Madre and offshore into the Gulf of Mexico.
Joey appreciates the fact that he and his family have been welcomed in Devine, and they have made great friends through their church and the boys’ community sports. So, with just a few more years left in the military, Joey says that the one thing he wants to do more of is “give back.” With that in mind, while attending a graveside service recently, he was inspired to honor the memories of veterans by cleaning up their headstones and thus pay respect “…to the men and women who served in our military and have chosen Devine as their final resting place.” He adds, “While visiting these courageous Americans, I want to clean up their headstones and take a few minutes to thank them for their service. That’s what’s in my future while I continue to serve my time in the Texas Army National Guard and serving as a Medevac Crew Chief in San Antonio.”