ARLINGTON, Virginia – It’s a long way from Eloy, Arizona, to Arlington, Virginia. Even longer when you add stops in London and Rio de Janeiro.
But that’s the path Army Staff Sgt. Joe Guzman took to reach the Pentagon for an event this week honoring Olympians and Paralympians in the U.S. military.
“I was one of them knuckleheads getting in trouble,” said Guzman, who grew up in Eloy. “But here I am now, standing in front of you, sergeant first class, 18 years in the Army, two-time Olympic boxing coach.”
Guzman was one of two Arizonans among the 23 service members who represented Team USA in Rio this summer. They included 16 Olympians, four Paralympians and three coaches who were praised Monday for their service in the military and in the games.
“These individuals bring the same dedication, hard work, and skill to their athletic endeavors that they bring to the finest fighting force the world has ever known,” Defense Secretary Ash Carter said.
Carter was joined onstage by Army Secretary Eric Fanning, Air Force Lt. Gen. Stayce Harris and John Register, a former Paralympian with the U.S. Olympic Committee, shaking hands with the solider-athletes while friends, family members and fellow service members cheered.
“Most of us never see you train, we never see your lonely hours in the pool, in the field or in the weight room,” said Harris, the Air Force assistant vice chief of staff, as flags from every military branch waved in the background. “But we saw you in Rio.”
Guzman said he started boxing as a teenager in Eloy and joined the Army shortly after graduating from Santa Cruz Valley Union High School.
His love for boxing only grew during his time in the military. He soon earned an invitation to the Army’s World Class Athlete Program, where he became a three-time All Armed Forces champion and won a silver medal in the 2007 World Military Championships.
Guzman, who said he is filled with pride when he wears his military and athletic uniforms, said the long hours and determination needed for military service translates to training for international sporting competitions, a sentiment echoed by armed forces officials at the event.
“Our airmen, our fellow service members and our citizens only need to watch our Olympians and Paralympians to witness this idea of excellence come to life,” Harris said.
Army Sgt. Elizabeth Marks, a Paralympian from Prescott Valley, received special recognition from Carter, who noted that she “broke a world
record, winning the gold in her Paralympic debut” in the 100-meter breaststroke.
But Marks’ domination of her event was not her first time in the limelight. She’s won four gold medals at the Invictus Games, for wounded soldiers, and received the Pat Tillman Award for Service at the 2016 ESPY Awards.
While Marks wasn’t able to attend the Pentagon ceremony, Guzman said he hopes her achievements, and all the achievements of Team USA, inspire young people in Arizona.
“With a positive mind, great attitude anything is possible,” Guzman said.
– Cronkite News video by Claire Caulfield