NCO spends free time training fellow Soldiers

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A glowing set of gloves flash about each other as two men circle warily. Using a succession of rapid jabs and calculated hooks, their feet dance in a concrete ring against the backdrop of the Romanian sunset. Their earnest focus is directed at one another, but the voice guiding them isn’t their own. They’re working off the lessons of Joel Vallete, their mentor.

Vallete, a Sgt. 1st Class, is the signal section chief for Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Armored Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division. After the duty day is through, he spends his free time training fellow Soldiers in the art of boxing.

“I love being able to teach Soldiers about something I love,” he said. “I’m really just here to spread knowledge about something that not everyone gets to do.”

Hailing from Stockton, California, Vallete joined the Army at 27 and found boxing soon after. He was introduced to it during a boxing “smoker,” which is a nonprofessional bout, in the early years of his military career.

“I was deployed and it all started with a boxing smoker,” he recalled. “I did that at the age of 32, so I started real late in my life.”

Although he took to training with a natural spark, his duties came first, leaving him with little time for competition. Luckily, he was able to give himself to his passion in another way. He began coaching in 2013. Giving his free time while on deployment to teach others about boxing allows him to spread some of the important life lessons the sport can teach.

“Boxing taught me a lot of discipline and a lot about myself as far as my physical capabilities, as well as my resilience,” he said. “That’s something I can apply in the ring and in life.”

This eventually gave Vallete the opportunity to be hand-selected for a coaching position on the All Army Boxing Team, an opportunity he accepted in a heartbeat. As a coach on that team, he went on to train with the boxers who would dominate the national competition, walking away with five victories as a squad.

Boxing wasn’t only a part-time passion for the noncommissioned officer. He was able to find ways to inject his boxing philosophy into his everyday life, and using that to help train his soldiers in the field and also offering them personal advice.

“I know if you do take a hard hit you have to get back up and finish out the round,” he said. “You have to finish what you started.”

This style of teaching has resonated deeply with his Soldiers and gained him admiration from all parts of his unit. First Sgt. Ernest Ramirez, company first sergeant of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 8th Infantry Regiment, spoke highly of Vallete’s effect on other Soldiers.

“Some of my Soldiers have been training with him and they come back and tell me ‘Sgt. 1st Class Vallete gave us a good one today, 1st Sgt.’ Overall it’s a positive thing he’s doing here,” he said. “He even trains my son back home, so his work means a great deal to me.”

It’s no secret that the Soldiers trained by Vallete are grateful for his guidance. Even though they work hard, smiles are always shared in the ring. Vallete trains students for a variety of reasons ranging from wanting to compete to just staying in shape. As long as they have a goal in mind he’ll work with them. He’s even taken on new students on his current deployment to Romania. It helps him spread his love for boxing and it shows in all of his trainees. Sgt. Marcos Benitez, one of Vallete’s Soldiers, as well as his top pupil, spoke on the influence Vallete has had on his life.

“When you walk into a gym and hear the heavy bag being punched, that’s what’s going to stick out to you the most. I walked into the building and it was like it called me to it,” he said. “Sgt. 1st Class Vallete really taught me to have tenacity in and out of the ring. It’s an honor to get to be taught by him.”

Taking a knee to talk to his students after their practice bout, Vallete goes over the session with each boxer. In an effortless manner he gets his students to find the answers within themselves, rather than giving it to them outright. Although he may try to downplay it, Vallete is a natural mentor in the field and in the ring. Incorporating the resiliency he honed in a decade of boxing into all aspects of his life, he stands ready for whatever comes next.