A Fort Bliss soldier who was wounded in Afghanistan will get to be an eyewitness to history and see President Obama's State of the Union address in person tonight.
It's a small way to thank Capt. Joshua Leone for his service, said U.S. Rep. Pete Gallego, D-Texas.
Leone, 30, will be the guest of Gallego, who represents part of the Lower Valley in his district that stretches from El Paso to San Antonio.
"This is a fantastic opportunity," Leone said while racing to the airport Monday afternoon. "My wife (Michelle) and I were ecstatic to get invited. I can't wait."
Leone was wounded in Afghanistan in October 2011 when a homemade bomb exploded under his vehicle. He broke his back, neck, hand and ankles and underwent
three surgeries before returning to the Fort Bliss Warrior Transition Battalion, where he recovered until May 2012.
He is now the commander of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division.
"I'm glad the congressman was looking for a wounded warrior," Leone said. "It shows me the folks at the top care and are looking out for our interests."
This won't be the first time that Leone gets an up-close encounter with the president.
Leone got to participate in a round-table with Obama during the president's most recent visit to Fort Bliss in August.
Leone said he feels like he is representing the entire 3rd Brigade, which is colorfully known as the Bulldog Brigade.
take Chester (the brigade's bulldog mascot), but I don't think Col. (Mark) Landes (the brigade commander) would let me," Leone joked.
Leone got confirmation that he was going on the trip on Friday, and he and his wife have been rushing to confirm travel plans since then. They are planning to be back in El Paso on Thursday.
The Association of the U.S. Army stepped up and is paying for his wife's trip, Leone said.
"That was really fantastic," he said.
Col. Mark H. Landes, the 3rd Brigade's commander, and Command Sgt. Maj. Corbett L. Whitmore, the brigade's command sergeant major, have both looked out for wounded warriors in the unit, Leone said.
"They would do this for anyone," Leone said. "I just happened to be hanging around the colonel's office at the right time. I'm honored that my name is being put up for this."
Leone, a State College, Pa. native, graduated from the U.S. Military Academy and was commissioned in 2006. He has been stationed at Fort Bliss since November 2009.
Gallego said that it was important for him as the son of a World War II veteran to bring a soldier to hear the president's address.
"This will be my first State of the Union address as a member of Congress, and I can think of no better way to underscore the importance of our country's commitment to its soldiers," Gallego said.
"My father served in World War II. A military family learns never to forget our troops. It will be a great privilege to have Capt. Leone as my guest at the State of the Union. He and his family have sacrificed much for our country.
"Capt. Leone's presence will remind me, my fellow members of Congress and all Americans that we have a duty to the men and women who serve our country," Gallego continued.
"They are America's heroes -- we owe them a great debt -- and we should continue to honor them by meeting our obligations when they come home."
David Burge may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; 546-6126. Follow him on Twitter @dburge1962
When to watch -- What: President Barack Obama's State of the Union address. -- When: 7 p.m. today. -- On TV: Address will air live on all major networks and several cable news networks. -- Online: Address will stream live at whitehouse.gov/state-of-the-union-2013
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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