Blake’s Heroic Journey
Few people have endured what Blake has suffered through. Fewer still have found the strength and fortitude to keep moving forward the way that Blake has. This is his story.
Written by Larry Trivieri Jr.
Joseph “Blake” DeLoach, who is 30 years old, was born is a small rural town in South Carolina, not far from the U.S. Marine training base at Parris Island. From the time he was a young boy, Blake remembers having a deep love for the military. As a child, he dressed up in Army fatigues and playacted missions in his yard. “Even as a child I knew joining the military was what I was going to do,” Blake recounts, “and as soon as I came of age I tried to enlist in the Marines.”
But Blake’s childhood was not all playacting and frolic. Far from it. When he was young, he and his older brother were abandoned by their unloving, alcoholic mother, leaving them in the sole care of his father. “I couldn’t ask for a better father,” Blake says. “He’s still the reason I am what I am today. He provided for us and we never went without a meal, although sometimes dad did.”
Because his father worked the graveyard shift, he needed to sleep during the day. Since Blake’s brother was four years older than him, he was usually off spending time with his friends, leaving Blake mostly on his own. His feelings of isolation did not improve when Blake turned old enough to begin school. He didn’t enjoy school and found it difficult. Because of the loneliness he felt, Blake began to use drugs. “I was twelve or thirteen when I started using cocaine,” he admits. “That’s what I turned to because I really didn’t have anyone or anything else in my life at the time. There’s really no answer for why I did what I did. That’s just the way it played out.”
Blake’s life took another turn for the worse when his mother came back into his life demanding time with her children. As a result, Blake says, “I got shuffled around like a bag of potatoes. I went to six different schools and just got tired of it.” Moreover, his difficulties with school did not improve. He was forced to repeat ninth grade three times because of his poor grades, and once he entered tenth grade and came of age, Blake chose to drop out of school. “I just wasn’t good at school,” he says. “I couldn’t understand it. It just wasn’t for me, so I dropped out.”
In place of school, Blake found work through local temp agencies, biding his time until he could enlist in the military. During this time, using the money he earned, Blake paid for and passed a course to obtain his General Equivalency Degree (G.E.D.). Then, as soon as he was old enough, he went to enlist in the Marines, only to be told a G.E.D. was not enough to be accepted into the Corps. Disheartened, Blake returned home. “I didn’t even consider enlisting in the Army,” he says. “I wanted to be a Marine.”
Then fate intervened. That same night, Blake received a call from an Army staff sergeant who had obtained his name and number from the Marine recruiting office. Blake returned to the recruiting office at 11pm and spoke with the sergeant until one in the morning. The next day, after taking and passing his qualification tests, Blake signed his enlistment papers to join the Army. “My goal was to get a combat-oriented job so that I could serve my country,” he says. “I didn’t want to be a paper pusher or anything like that. I’m a people pusher.”
Based on his qualifications, Blake was offered positions in the infantry or as a cavalry combat scout in the 19th Delta. According to the U.S. Army’s website, a “cavalry scout is responsible for being the eyes and ears of the commander during battle. They engage the enemy in the field, track and report their activity and direct the employment of weapon systems to their locations.”
Blake asked for more information about the cavalry scout position, insisting on an honest answer. “I was told, ‘Well, if you like hard work, long days, and getting dirty in the mud and so forth, you’ll love the job.’ I said, sign me up.” Blake was then told about the Army’s Airborne School, or Jump School. This interested him, so he signed up for that too.”
It was during this time that Blake married his first wife, someone he’d known since sixth grade. One week later, he departed for six weeks of basic training at Fort Knox, Kentucky.
Soon thereafter, misfortune again struck Blake. “I arrived for basic training on March 22, 2005,” Blake recalls. “By April second, my wife was already cheating on me with another man. That was a hard thing to go through, undergoing the hardest training of my life while learning my wife was cheating on me.” Blake got through this by choosing to focus on his training in the hopes that his wife would “come around” by the time he completed it. That didn’t happen. “I graduated jump school in September but she didn’t show up for the ceremony.”
Given two weeks leave before he had to report for duty for his next assignment in Anchorage, Alaska, Blake returned home to meet with his wife, only to find another shock awaiting him. She revealed that she was pregnant but did not know if the child was Blake’s or that of the other man she had been seeing. Blake also learned that the other man was “a big drug dealer and drug user in the county.”
Because Blake still genuinely cared for her he told her if she wanted to stay with him, he knew he could provide both her and the child a better life than the other man could. “So, I took her back and the baby, a boy, was born in January, 2006.” (Years later, Blake learned that the child was not his, but he accepted him as his son and never stopped loving and supporting him.)
By then, Blake was stationed in Alaska, further pursuing his military training. There, despite his commitment to her and their child, his wife still continued to betray him, including writing multiple bad checks in his name that resulted in Blake nearly being arrested and having to undergo a criminal profile. “It was a big mess,” Blake says, “but I stayed with her. Then I was deployed to Iraq, but before I left, I learned she was pregnant again.”
In March, 2007, Blake was seriously injured for the first time while serving in Iraq. “I got blown up,” he deadpans. “I was on patrol walking down a street in South Baghdad when an IED (improvised explosive device) blew up about ten feet in front of me.” Despite suffering a shoulder injury and trauma to his brain, “I pushed through the mission, and then returned home later that month, in time for my second son to be born.”
His respite home was short-lived, however. Two weeks later, Blake was back in Iraq “pushing through more missions” despite lingering problems with his shoulder. “Every time I would put on my gear, my arm would go numb,” he says. Eventually, it was determined that because of his injury he was experiencing poor circulation in both his arm and shoulder. As a result, he was medevaced home in June of that year, where he underwent intensive therapy to rebuild his shoulder.
It was during this time that Blake first began to experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). They manifested when he found himself unable to be around his infant sons when they cried. Their cries were too much for him cope with because while in Iraq the opposition forces regularly played recordings of babies crying and screaming. The memories of that triggered Blake’s response to his own children’s cries. “I couldn’t bear to be around them when they cried because it bothered me so deeply,” he says.
Before much longer, Blake’s enlistment in the Army was coming to an end, but because of his desire to continue to serve his country, he wanted to re-enlist. Meanwhile, his wife again got pregnant and his third son was born in February, 2008.
Blake re-enlisted so that he could continue to look out for his fellow Army colleagues and new recruits arriving in combat zones for the first time. “During my first tour of duty, none of us in my unit knew what to expect once we got to Iraq,” Blake explains. “I re-enlisted specifically so that I could help my new unit better prepare for what they might face over there. We were a smooth, solid unit, just a good group of guys. I was glad to be with them because the military was my heart, but it was also hard for me because I was unable to spend much time with my children. I think I was only able to be with them on their birthdays twice during that time” due to how life is in the military.
Blake’s next tour of duty was to Afghanistan. Two months into his deployment there he learned that his wife had taken his sons and once again left him for another man. In order to cope, he kept his focus on his mission “and keeping my guys safe.”
When he was finally able to return home on leave, Blake learned that the new man his wife had left him for was someone he’d protected from being beaten up when they were both in school “because he was a small guy, other kids liked to pick on him.” Before long, Blake and his wife divorced. Since then, she has refused to allow him to see his sons. “The last time I saw them, they were two, three, and four,” Blake says. “They were so little.”
When Blake returned to Afghanistan he was assigned to a personal security detachment detail, where he was responsible for protecting a high ranking officer. “But I didn’t want to leave my unit,” he says. “Those guys were like family.” So, Blake did all he could to spend time with them while in Afghanistan.
The prelude to the next major tragedy to strike Blake occurred on his birthday in October 2010. That day, he called his ex-wife hoping to be able to speak with his sons. She refused to let them come to the phone, telling him that she wanted him “to hurry up and get shot in the face and die” because she didn’t want to have anything to do with him.
Three days later, October 18, 2010, Blake was assigned to accompany the officer he guarded to meet with local Afghani elders as part of a community outreach detail. But he soon discovered that the soldier assigned to replace him in his unit wasn’t even awake, let alone dressed and ready to accompany them on their next mission. Knowing that his unit was already short of men due to some of them being away on leave, Blake asked for and was granted permission to instead accompany his unit in what was supposed to be “just a simple mission”.
Soon after Blake and his unit set off, after they passed the first checkpoint, they were ambushed. The vehicle Blake was in was hit by a rocket propelled grenade (RPG) that landed inside it, where it exploded. “It broke my driver’s arm, and did a lot of damage to my face and eyes,” Blake recounts. “I lost my vision instantly and took a lot of shrapnel. My headset was completely blown off my head, my protective vests were destroyed, and so were my weapons. Basically, my entire crew was down.”
Down, but not out. Despite being surrounded by dozens of enemy combatants, Blake says, “My guys, many of whom were also injured, swung into action, and we fought out of that tooth and nail, and sped back to the base.”
En route, Blake’s right lung collapsed. “A piece of metal had punctured my ribcage, shattering my fourth and fifth ribs and blowing bone fragments into my lung, so I couldn’t breathe. I was also in severe pain, with wounds to the arteries in my neck. I was bleeding out and couldn’t receive painkillers because they would have thinned my blood, and I would have bled out faster.”
Blake also could not talk because part of his jaw had also been fragmented. “Every time I tried to say something, some of my teeth would fall out.”
Despite his extensive, serious injuries, when his unit returned to base he refused help until he could assist his squad members out of the vehicle. Only then did he allow himself to be placed on a stretcher and taken inside for care.
Because of the severity of his life-threatening wounds, Blake was put into an induced coma, both to spare him from his pain, and in the hopes that he would somehow pull through. While in this unconscious state, Blake was visited by a general, who asked him if he was all right. “Apparently, when he asked me that, I was told that I gave him a thumbs up,” Blake chuckles.