Growing up in Los Angeles, Josue was the middle child of seven kids being raised by a single mother. He played a lot of street basketball and got involved in the L.A. gang scene.
“I started in the gangs when I was 14,” Josue recalls. “By the time I was 17, I had done so much, I was tired of it. Most of the gang members were getting nowhere, and as I was getting older, I saw that was not the life I wanted to live. I wanted to change my ways, and I wanted to stop adding pressure to my mom."
“One of my buddies asked me if I wanted to join the military,” Josue continued. “I started going to the Marine Corps recruiting station, and I asked my mom to sign my papers for boot camp. I had my first day in boot camp in San Diego on September 5, 2007. It was my 18th birthday.”
Josue was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines based out of Camp Pendleton in San Diego, California. His first deployment, in 2009, was with the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (31st MEU) based out of Okinawa, Japan. The 31st MEU is the only permanently forward-deployed MEU, and is America's expeditionary force-in-readiness in the Asia-Pacific region.
In September 2010, Josue was deployed to Afghanistan, where he was serving in the infantry in Helmand Province in the southern area of the country. It was dangerous work.
“We couldn’t patrol at night,” Josue explained, “because there were so many IEDs [improvised explosive devices] in that area, all over the place. You also assume that if someone is digging a hole at night, that’s the thing, they’re planting an IED. I was injured on October 21, and the night before somebody on post on security had shot someone digging a hole.”
“Early in the morning, I heard my squad leader telling a team in our squad to go out,” Josue continued. I got my gear; it took me about 4 minutes to get ready. We went to check out the body, we took a couple pictures, and on the way back me and my engineer stepped on the IED. I lost my left leg and left eye.”
“The biggest thing for me, as soon as it went off, I took shrapnel to my eyes,” Josue recalled. “I could hear, but I couldn't see. I kept calm. I was just waiting for the helicopter to get there and MEDEVAC us out.”
Josue’s left leg was amputated and he now has a prosthetic left eye—with the Marine Corps logo engraved on it.
While recovering at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego, Josue became aware of the Semper Fi Fund. “They were right there since day one,” he says, “they're the non-profit that's been supporting us the whole way. When I was at the hospital, we started the San Diego Wolfpack—the Semper Fi Fund has been a big sponsor of the team, helping pay for air flights, tournaments, all sorts of things.”
The San Diego Wolfpack, which has players from all branches of the military, is the only wheelchair basketball team in the United States that is made up of active duty and veteran service members who have sustained an amputation, spinal cord injury or other orthopedic or neurological disorder.
A few months ago, Josue’s love of sports brought him once again to the Marine Corps Trials, an eight-sport Paralympic-style invitational made up of wounded, ill and injured Marines and international wounded warriors. This year’s 4th annual Trials took place in March at Camp Pendleton.
“They bring 10 other countries to the Trials to compete with us,” Josue said. “Wheelchair basketball, handcycling, track and field—the minimum is two sports. The Trials is tryouts for the Wounded Warrior Games in Colorado Springs in September. They only pick 40 Marines to go to the Games. I made it three years in a row, and I'm pretty sure I'm gonna make it again this year.” (Note: Josue will find out in June whether he made the Games.)
Despite having lost a leg and an eye in Afghanistan, Josue maintains an incredibly positive attitude. “I don’t feel wounded,” he told a military reporter in 2012. “I still do everything I used to do. Here and there I’ll complain, but just to myself. I don’t really feel wounded at all.”
In fact, Josue told us, his experience has actually made him stronger.
“I think it made me stronger, my confidence level went up,” he said. “Where I come from, everything happens for a reason. You get to be an example for other people, you're pushing yourself to the limit—once you get disabled, it doesn't end there. We break that stereotype of disabled people.”
“Everything that I do, my motivation comes from all the guys we lost in Afghanistan that didn't come home. That's why I push myself to my limits—there are guys that get a second chance, and too many who don't.”