Army Combat Veteran Joe Leal joined the US Army at a ripe young age, after growing up in the toughest neighborhoods of Los Angeles County. Having dedicated a total of 18 years of distinguished service through combined Military and DOD Army Civilian roles, Leal was no stranger to battle. He took part in the largest historical ground assault into Iraq, fighting not only on the front lines but also transporting enemy prisoners of war, as an Infantryman with the 101st ABN. While bravely engaged in battle for our country, Leal was injured as he combated in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. It was then that, with an overwhelmingly heavy heart, he medically released from active duty as an Army Soldier. Through his love and loyalty for God and Country, Leal overcame the invisible wounds and continued to serve our nation as an Army Civilian with the Department of Defense. He was hired by the U.S. Army Reserve to help mobilize, sustain, and bring soldiers home from combat operations, assisting with the needs of military families. After witnessing countless soldiers from his battalion, and their families, living in tumultuous hardship upon return from military service, Leal pioneered a new, much-needed position now known as the Military Community Liaison. The task in this role is to help veterans and their families successfully transition from combat to civilian life; and to focus relief and support towards the Army Reserve's soldiers, and their families, as they serve on multiple deployments.
Throughout his military service, Leal also braved ground in Bosnia/Croatia as part of the Quick Reaction Force to help protect UN Delegates/Forces. A few of Leal's service medals include the Army Reserve Components Achievement Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Medal, Iraq Campaign Medal, NATO Medal (Bosnia), Armed Forces Service Medal, Armed Forces Reserve Medal (M), North Atlantic Treaty Medal and the Good Conduct Medal.
Today, Leal is the leading organizer of events/efforts dedicated to helping veterans of all eras, in all capacities. He is the founder of The Vet Hunters Project, which is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the mission of preventing and ending veteran homelessness. A team of veterans helping veterans, Vet Hunters' members include combat veterans from Korea, Vietnam, Bosnia, Desert Storm, Iraq and Afghanistan. With their extensive military experience and training, Vet Hunters are known for excellence in their dedication to duty and for selfless service. Through this organization, Leal and his team have prevented homelessness and transitioned hundreds of veterans from the streets into homes. To date, the Vet Hunters Project has prevented or ended homelessness for nearly 4,000 veterans and their families.
In 2011, 21 members of the Vet Hunters Project rode bicycles from East Los Angeles, California to St. Louis, Missouri on a 1,900 mile trek, to help find and house as many homeless veterans as possible. During the journey, the team ended homelessness for 5 heroes and provided relief and support to more than one hundred others. In June 2013, the Vet Hunters Cycling Team, led by Leal, hit the streets again, crossing more than 9,000 miles to prevent or end veteran homelessness, as they made their way to join the Points of Light Conference in Washington, D.C. where Leal was awarded the President’s Call to Service Award.
Apart from a relentless campaign to raise awareness across the country, Leal has also initiated a fervent Boots on the Ground effort to deliver solutions directly to veterans struggling at home. In October 2011, Leal helped to spearhead the 1st San Gabriel Valley Homeless Veterans Stand Down, wherein hundreds of homeless veterans were housed, fed, clothed and educated on a plethora of resources available to them. The mission of Operation Stand Down was to raise awareness and bring in-the-trenches solutions to ending veteran homelessness. In November 2013, The San Gabriel Valley Homeless Veteran Stand Down will return for its third consecutive year, having evolved from a single day event into a three-day, full scale Military Village, built by The United States Army Reserve (complete with shower/laundry facilities, a Chow Hall, lodging and more), where homeless veterans and their families can receive the guidance and help they need.
From his dedication to his military brethren and community, Leal founded and created the Welcome Home Defenders of Freedom Rose Bowl event, where thousands of patriotic Americans attended to honor veterans from all combat conflicts and proudly welcome them home. He is the creator of the US Army 155TH Army Reserve, I Do, Take Two program that allows soldiers to renew their wedding vows, free of charge. This helps strengthen these families, keeping them together through the struggles of multiple deployments.
Remembering his fallen comrades through the daily actions as a leader, Leal's service has inspired whole communities to get involved and support our troops. With great humility, he has received a number of military awards and accolades, some of which include the California State Legislation 57th Assembly District's 2012 Veteran of the Year, the Latin Business Association Army 2011 Community Hero of the Year Award, Association of the United States Army Dwight D. Eisenhower Family Readiness Group Liaison of the year, U.S. Army Master Instructor, ESGR Five Seals Award, West Point Military Academy Recognition for Outstanding Cadre (10th Mountain), Basset Adult School Principle for a Day, the Native American Warriors Medal of Valor, and the 2012 Local Heroes Award from KCET L.A. This past May, Leal was awarded the 2013 Luchador Incansable Heroes Award, on a nationwide program produced by Telemundo and the President’s Call to Serve Award.
Deeply rooted in passion for community and his foundation with the military, Leal always credits and thanks the U.S. Army, the Vet Hunters Project Platoon Members, and coalition partners, for their mentorship, support and leadership. One Team, One Fight! Hooah!